10 Wrong Responses During Hard Conversations

Leadership often requires us to have hard conversations – sometimes at our initiative, and sometimes at the initiative of others. When those times happen, I must always check myself to make sure my heart isn’t moving in the wrong direction during the conversation, especially because I don’t like confrontation in general. Here’s what I must watch for:

  1. Allowing anger to arise. I know when my heart begins to pound a little faster, my blood pressure starts to rise, and my facial muscles begin to tighten. If I let it get out of control, I’ll respond in an unhealthy way.
  2. Moving toward “shut down” mode. Sometimes it’s easiest for me simply to end the conversation and ignore the issue. That’s a copout, however.
  3. Building to build a defensive wall. This especially happens when the conversation turns to critique me. I have a tendency to bow up and prove myself right before I genuinely hear the concerns of others.
  4. Deflecting blame toward the other person. When I am, in fact, guilty of creating a problem, I too often cast blame on others before taking responsibility for my own actions.
  5. Tuning out the other person. Sure, I’m there in the room during the conversation, but my mind is elsewhere. I’m listening more to my inner thoughts than to the person talking to me.
  6. Whitewashing a needed apology. It sounds something like this: “I’m sorry that you felt hurt by my actions” or “I regret that my stand caused anguish for you.” In both cases, the “apology” is seldom genuine.
  7. Talking more than listening. When I talk more than listen, I tend to come across as the teacher more than the concerned, caring brother in Christ – and I miss an opportunity to shepherd well.
  8. Making only brief eye contact. That’s one way I know that the conversation is stressing me out. If I’m looking around or over the other person, I’m not as engaged as I need to be to bring resolution.
  9. Seeking to “win” the conversation. The confrontation becomes a competition, and my naturally competitive spirit kicks in. A need to win makes a healthy conversation almost impossible.
  10. Talking without praying. That wrong response might be, in fact, the deepest wrong. My lack of prayer is a confession that I don’t need God’s help – and the conversation inevitably remains difficult.

What wrong responses must you guard against? 


  • Bill Pitcher says:

    Your #7 gives me mixed feelings. Though I agree that these responses can be–and often are–used as cop-outs, there are times when people are offended by our actions when the action is proper, just and our only viable option. The offended party cannot put him/herself in our position and thus is unable to comprehend why we did what did. In those cases, an apology for the offence may be in order, coupled with an explanation of the reason behind our action.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Bill, for your thoughts. One comment, though– there may be times when getting a parent or church leader involved is the right thing to do, though I agree that we need to work at gaining trust.

  • Mark says:

    Don’t use the person’s age as a reason to shut the conversation down. There are a lot of young people who would like to talk to you and whose opinion of Christianity will be altered based on how well or poorly you respond.

    Ratting the person out either to their parents or other church leaders should not occur. For the former, you’re using the parent to punish the child for a hard conversation. For the latter, this puts the person in a position from the which he/she can never recover, that is the castaway group.

  • Let the person talk!! Do not interupt, even to say, ‘I understand ‘. Sometimes the person might just need to talk it out and will eventually ‘get it’. By interrupting, the listener is giving the speaker the feeling he doesn’t care and/or ‘you are wasting my time. ‘ I guess these might go along with #8. Looking at the speaker while he talks conveys, ‘I care/I’m listening /You are important and I want to hear what you have to say. ‘
    I have a friend that texts me and/or comes to my house only so she can ‘vent'(as she calls it) without wanting me to say anything sometimes; other times, she does want my advice.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks for your thoughts!

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