What is a courageous conversation?
Husbands, wives, parents, children, friends, neighbors, employers—relationships fill our lives. They require the investments of time and care, especially when conflicts arise. A courageous conversation is an effective tool that you can use to resolve relational conflicts.
Ten questions are involved in a courageous conversation. Using these questions to guide your discussion, you will address (1) the pressing issue, (2) the consequences of the issue, (3) the responsibilities of those involved, and (4) the hopes and plans for improving the future.
Most people don’t feel safe enough to talk about their deepest needs and fears, because they know that few people are willing to try to listen from another person’s perspective. A courageous conversation can create an atmosphere of patient listening that blends the elements of mercy and truth, thus facilitating deeper communication.
One definition of intimacy is “in to me see.” When we look through another person’s eyes and try to see as he sees, we can begin to understand why he is behaving the way he is behaving. Then both of you can look at the truth together and each one will be challenged to make the necessary changes to resolve the issue. This attitude of seeking to understand each other and to work together to bring a solution is the key to the success of courageous conversations.
There are three goals for a courageous conversation:
- To gain wisdom to see from a bigger perspective. Your perspective will broaden when you listen sincerely to others and when you seek God’s viewpoint about an issue.
- To gain understanding that will establish trust in the relationship. When you try to see a situation from another person’s perspective, you can usually understand why he behaves as he does. In an environment of mercy, he will be free to share his heart and encouraged to honestly face the truth about his perspective of the issue.
- To gain knowledge so that you can take the next step. When you have gained wisdom and understanding, God will grant the knowledge of His will to resolve any issue.
A courageous conversation often comes up without any invitation or planning. When it becomes apparent that there is a problem because someone seems hurt or feels frustrated with his efforts to communicate, it’s time to begin a courageous conversation. Watch for these cues, and be quick to humble yourself and initiate the process of understanding the root issues.
1. “What is your most pressing issue?”
Begin by humbly asking about the most pressing issue. Afterward, restate clearly what you heard: “What I hear you saying is that your most pressing issue is . . . .”
2. “In addition to this issue, is there something else?”
The goal of asking this question is to get to the root issue, because many people are unable to describe their most pressing needs. Listen to what the frustrated person has to say, and try to see if one of the following two root issues is causing his intense feelings:
- Fear of Rejection—An issue or person is making him feel like he is unacceptable, and consequently he doesn’t feel good about himself.
- Fear of Failure—An issue or person is making him feel inadequate.
If it is appropriate, and if you sense that the person is open to discussing these issues, you may ask if these fears are the root problems. Otherwise, go ahead and discuss the issue that he identified as the most pressing one.
Write down the most pressing issue, because all of the other questions will refer to it. If there is more than one issue, ask which is the most pressing. You can effectively deal with only one issue at a time.
3. “How is this issue affecting you?”
When you ask this question, listen closely to the response and try to put yourself in the other person’s place. Take the brunt of his intense emotions, and do not defend yourself. Instead, grieve with him over the hurt that you or others have inflicted on him. Such a response on your part will enable you to see how serious the issue really is and how it affects you and those around you.
It is important for you to express an understanding of how they feel. When people feel that they are heard and cared for, they can begin to move on to resolving their issues. To express your understanding, rephrase what you heard the person say—to his satisfaction.
4. “What will the future be like if nothing changes?”
At this point in the conversation, you will see the high cost of doing nothing. Do not gloss over what you hear; stop and truly consider the issue as it is perceived by the other person. As you take this step, both of you will be motivated to resolve the issue.
Once again, rephrase what you heard the other person say. If he is not satisfied with your understanding, be patient as he again verbalizes his thoughts so that you can truly understand.
5. “What do you see as my responsibility in this issue?”
This question opens up the opportunity to really understand the heart of the other person as he shares his real needs. If you begin to explain, complain, or blame him in response to what he says, the conversation will fail. You need to show a willingness to humble yourself and to seek after Christ’s righteousness, instead of defending your own righteousness.
Try to express the heart of the other person by rephrasing what he has said, to his satisfaction. If you have further insights about your responsibilities, be willing to share them with him to reveal that you understand the issue.
6. “What do you see as your responsibility in this issue?”
This question may take him by surprise, since he has probably been looking at himself as a victim instead of seeing that he also has responsibility in the situation. Allowing him to share the responsibility for resolving the issue is a turning point in the conversation.
7. “What does the preferable future look like to you?”
Now it is time to focus on what could be and should be. You will find hope for a solution as you agree on a desired future and begin to share a vision that restores your enthusiasm and sense of partnership. God will begin to help you see the future as He sees it, filled with plans for good and not for evil.
8. “What is the most powerful thing that we can agree to ask God for?”
Since the personal responsibilities and the preferable future have been discussed, it is time to decide how you will pursue that future. Will you seek to resolve the issue in your own strength, or will you rely on the power of God to fill you and enable you to walk in His ways of harmony, responsibility, and peace? You now have the opportunity to cast your burdens on the Lord and seek His aid for living in full restoration. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee” (Psalm 55:22).
9. “Based on what we have learned so far, what is the one thing we cannot fail to do?”
Identify a basic action that will help you correct the behavior that led to your conflict. Focus on the main thing that will make a difference if you do it with consistency and excellence. Ask, “What is the one thing that we cannot fail to do, or everything else will be rendered inconsequential?”
The objective you agree on should be understood by everyone involved. It can be an idea such as, “We cannot fail to communicate.” Identify the objective that will help you move toward the preferable future and set you on the path to peace with each other.
10. “What practical steps must we take to make this happen?”
Now is the time to talk about the things you can do to make your objectives happen. These are activities you can plan out—you know who is supposed to do what by when. These are the highly leveraged steps that produce great results.
May God grant you the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding that you may walk worthy of His noble calling and produce fruit that will stand the test of eternity as you make noble plans and carry out noble deeds.