We’ve all been there. You’re having a hard conversation with someone, and things aren’t going well. They’re not responding the way you had hoped. No matter how much you try, you seemingly can’t see eye-to-eye. The conversation gets heated, or it drags on endlessly with no progress made. It feels like you’re in a worse spot now than when you started. What do you do?
As Christians, we should be prepared for such situations. We should be the experts at “speaking truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and doing our part to “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). So, before you enter into your next hard conversation, here are seven things to keep in mind in case it goes south.
During the Conversation
- Share the gospel. In many cases, the reason why a conversation goes bad is because the two parties are coming at it from completely different angles. If a believer is trying to reconcile with a non-believer, you can’t expect to share common ground when it comes to concepts of forgiveness and grace. The most important thing you can do in those situations is to share the gospel. Your own personal disagreement or misunderstanding is of little importance compared to the eternal stakes of their salvation.
- Aim for mutual understanding. Remember that the goal of communication isn’t to “win,” but to understand. When conversations go wrong, it is often because one side is misinterpreting the other. Try using the Speaker-Listener Technique, which is especially helpful for these situations. (Proverbs 18:2)
- Overcome your negative communication patterns. Are you negatively interpreting what the other person is saying or invalidating their opinion? Are you avoiding saying what needs to be said or aggressively escalating the argument? All of us have negative tendencies that are more likely to come up during difficult conversations. Find out what your negative communication patterns are and learn how you can overcome them. (Romans 7:15)
- Remind one another of what you agree about. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to focus on the one thing you are disagreeing about, even when there are likely hundreds of other areas where you do agree. Are you arguing over something that’s essential, or is there room for you to simply have a difference of opinion? (Romans 14:1)
- Don’t add to the problem yourself. Sometimes people can be difficult to deal with. But sometimes, the difficult person is you. Are you sinning in the way that you’re handling the conversation? Are you too proud to consider the possibility that you might be the one who’s wrong—or that you might both be wrong? Make sure that you are a part of the solution, and not part of the problem, by drawing a circle around yourself and fixing everyone within the circle. (Matthew 7:3-5)
- Bring in other trusted advisors. Having an outside perspective (or additional witnesses) can help confirm the issue or bridge communication gaps. (Matthew 18:16)
- Take a timeout. If the conversation starts escalating or you find yourself stuck in a pointless loop, the best step might be to step back for a bit. Take a timeout, whether it be for just a couple of minutes (“Mind if I get some coffee?”) or a couple of days (“Could we come back to this later? How about Tuesday evening?”). This allows you both to cool off, think it over, pray for guidance, and break the negative cycle. (Proverbs 17:14)
- Know when (and how) to call it quits. Sometimes you need a temporary timeout, but other times you need to just end the conversation. If you’re in a hole, don’t keep digging. Have an exit strategy. Prayerfully part ways. (Titus 3:9-10)
After the Conversation
Even if you never end up agreeing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is over. And even in the cases where it does mean it’s over, you should still pray for that person and be willing to welcome them back if they do eventually repent (Luke 15:24).
In reading this, you may be thinking through past conversations that went poorly and realizing that you left some of those relationships in a really bad place. It’s never too late (or too early) to seek reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24). Own your part in the situation and ask for forgiveness (Proverbs 28:13).
When conversations go bad, remember that you are talking with someone created by God and bearing His image (Genesis 1:27). Although relationships can be messy and inefficient, they are also worth it, because the person you are sitting across from has great worth in God’s sight (Matthew 10:30-31). Be faithful to do your part, and do everything out of love (1 Corinthians 16:14).