How to Approach Healthy Confrontation

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Most of us dread confrontation, avoid it, or maybe overdo it. When working with a team, it is guaranteed that you will have disagreements as you are interacting with people who think and behave differently than you. Last year at WorshipU On Campus, Paul McClure, worship pastor at Bethel Church, and Eric Allen, artist manager for Bethel Music, shared their experiences with confrontation and communication on their teams.

It’s the people who are willing to confront us and say things we don’t want to hear that catapult us further into our destiny. As leaders in the church world, sometimes we’re leading friends, or we’re over our peers. This can make situations more sensitive, and we often want to avoid hard conversations. Not every conversation has to be hard, but being a leader requires confrontation, even when it’s awkward.

It’s easy to think we’re protecting people’s feelings by not having hard conversations or giving feedback, but we may actually be trying to protect ourselves from the responsibility of someone else’s feelings. Here are 4 ways to confront people with confidence and kindness.

Check your heart

Throughout the day, our subconscious is collecting information based on direct, indirect, and misinterpreted messages from other people whether we realize it or not. When we hold unforgiveness against people, it can actually leak into our interactions and poison our relationships. When we choose to forgive someone, that change of heart has the power to release God’s grace and redemptive power into a situation and relationship.

Before you sit down with someone for a conversation, check the state of your heart towards that person. Pull up any roots of bitterness that may be poisoning your relationship, and choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. We have the power to partner with the redemption Jesus paid for on the cross when we forgive people. This will pave the way for a smoother conversation.

“There have been so many times where I come to Eric mad at a person or about a situation, and he’s so calm. It’s so easy to get worked up about interactions and conversations.” – Paul McClure

Seek first to understand

Often our imaginations make confrontation more dramatic than it should be, and that’s because we’re making assumptions. Assumptions can lead to grumbling, complaining, and hardness of heart. What if you just had a conversation instead?

The reality of something is way more beautiful than the perception of something. When you seek to understand your team, it will keep you from managing a perception that you have of people. Be sure to ask questions instead of accusing someone of something. These kinds of questions can start with simply asking someone how they’re doing.

It can be easy to treat people according to what they can do or what they bring to the team. We should first care for someone simply because we care about them and want what is best for their lives.

Our team members have a whole life outside of this ministry or organization. Make an effort to know your teammates in a way that goes deeper than what they do for you. When having a conversation, another way you can seek to understand someone is by asking them for their perspective on a situation instead of assuming what they are thinking. This can sound like,

“What was on your mind when you said…”

“How do you feel about your work-load?”

“Do you feel like you’re growing?”

“When you______, what is your thought process behind that?”

These questions can then prompt the person to become more aware of themselves and how they are coming across. It also clears the air for both of you to fully understand where that person is coming from.

Stay current

Miscommunication is one of the most significant contributions to a poorly functioning team. Get ahead of the game and say something sooner than later.

When we’re afraid of confrontation or someone’s reaction, we will avoid taking care of issues when they arise, which will eventually lead to an attitude of passivity. The reality is that no one is perfect, and we have to have conflict to grow. The longer you let something fester, the worse it gets. If you don’t stay in real-time with what you’re feeling or thinking, it consumes the whole team.

When you notice someone struggling with something, and you are approaching a conversation with them, come with solutions, and do your part to invest in their growth. Resource them and pour into them first before getting frustrated.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations where I had to take someone off the team because they weren’t meeting expectations practically. One thing I try to do is do as much as I can before we have to have that conversation is meet with them and ask, ‘How are you doing, what’s your experience been, where do you want to be next year, how can I help you do that?’ If you notice someone is pitchy, how can you come with resources for that person?” -Paul McClure

At the end of the day, that person is responsible for practicing and taking ownership of themselves, but as leaders, we can build people up and prevent having to tell them to leave. When someone gets news that they should have gotten a long time ago, they get way more offended. If you have conversations along the way, it prevents even harder ones later.

Set the tone

You take an atmosphere into every situation. When you choose to have a heart that sees past the hurt and frustration and give the person the benefit of the doubt, you’re creating an unspoken atmosphere of compassion. Go in with an attitude of “We’re going to figure it out,” rather than going in for a fight. Even your words will carry something different. Rather than being concerned about if they like you or if they will be upset, there’s a level of confidence that you can bring into the conversation.

We can’t control feelings that the other person brings to a conversation, but when we are confident and kind, we can weather the storm of their initial reaction, whether good or bad. If you embrace confrontation instead of avoiding it, your team will grow stronger and more healthy. Your relationships will be more open and peaceful, and you will ultimately build a foundation of trust for your team that will allow you to go even farther than you could have imagined.

Watch Paul McClure and Eric Allen talk about healthy communication in their class, “Pastoring Your Team.”