I have always been fascinated with communication. I suppose the intrigue began at an early age when I realized that some people were really good at it, and others were just plain terrible. As I matured, I began noticing more and more that those who were good at communication were able to harness the sleeping dragon that many of us fall slave to in the heat of the moment: Emotion. I mean, who hasn’t said something stupid and paid the price for healthy resolution when in a conversation where the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong? Guilty.
I’m always wanting to grow in my communication skills (even after an undergraduate degree in Communications). Lately, I’ve been reading a book called Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. In it, the authors lay out three ways that all crucial conversations can be approached:
- We can avoid them.
- We can face them and handle them poorly.
- We can face them and handle them well.
So simple, yet the tools to handle them well escape many good-intentioned individuals due to an unwillingness to step back from the real heart of most issues. Why are hard conversations so hard? Ultimately, because those on the receiving end process feedback through the lens of the world and not the lens of the Gospel. What someone hears is – “You’ve made a mistake!”…”You’re not good enough!”…”You’re not perfect!”
Is this what the Gospel tells us about crucial conversations? Matthew 18:15-19 certainly gives us the best way to approach tough conversations, but even apart from structure, how we hear feedback and how we react when we may disagree is a heart condition that is much more about you personally than it is the other person.
So how do you handle crucial conversations? Do you react emotionally? Do you gear up to defend? Are you prepared to tackle a lion? Or do you work hard to step out of the emotion and see the heart? Every disagreement comes with baggage. Every story has a past, a perceived present, and an unwritten future. Leaders see that and challenge themselves to find the mutual purpose in the disagreement, and bring others along with them toward healing and resolution.
Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
5th-8th Grade Principal
Evansville Christian School