Have you ever dreaded a hard conversation? Did you wonder, How do I even begin?
Years ago, a friend and I planned to meet for lunch at a restaurant halfway between us, which was still a forty-minute drive. Moments before I reached the restaurant, I received a text: “Oops! Should have texted you earlier, but I need to reschedule.”
I turned my car around and tried to convince myself it was silly to be offended: It was a careless mistake. Minutes later, though, I wrestled with feelings of anger: How could she be so inconsiderate? But, five minutes later: Let it go. She’s a friend. My thoughts and feelings changed so fast I had emotional whiplash!
Had this been her first last-minute cancellation I would have chalked it up to a simple oversight. But it wasn’t and I knew if I ignored the situation I’d create space for bitterness to develop.
I needed to talk to her but wondered, how do I have a conversation where I feel heard, but she doesn’t feel defensive?
And isn’t that the relational question of the decade?!
James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
When the Bible says, “Take note of this,” God is effectively saying, “Think about what I’m about to say because it has major ramifications for your life.”
After my friend’s cancellation, I let a day pass before I set a time for us to FaceTime. Minutes before our conversation, I prayed for wisdom. I had planned to lead the conversation by expressing my feelings, but when I saw her face on the screen the Holy Spirit whispered, “stop.” I decided to lead with listening, instead.
“Hey! Good to see you. What happened yesterday?” I wondered aloud.
Prior to our conversation, I’d concocted a “story” surrounding the incident in my mind. But was the story I told myself true? Did I have full understanding?
Not until I listened. Her explanation gave me a complete picture of the circumstance, which helped me formulate what I said next.
“Now your last-minute cancellation makes more sense. Honestly though, I wished you’d texted earlier, or at least called me afterward to explain. Can you understand why?”
“Yes, and I’m so sorry. Truthfully, I felt embarrassed, and I thought it would be easier not to say anything. Thank you for talking to me about this right away so it didn’t end up hurting our friendship.”
We ended our conversation feeling connected, certain no hurt feelings stood between us.
As it turns out, the best way to launch an uncomfortable conversation is not with something we say, it’s with something we do: Listen.
Listening promotes understanding, diffuses the potential for unrighteous anger, and paves the way for honest communication.
Leading with listening is leading with love.
How do we start a conversation where we lead with listening? We ask questions like, “What happened?” or “Tell me your perspective on…”
Does listening guarantee our relationship issues will turn out right? No, but it greatly increases the odds they will! However, whatever the outcome, when we’re quick to listen and slow to speak we can be certain we honored God by handling relational hard stuff in a holy and healthy way.
You are loved,
PS. The above content is an excerpt from my latest book, Healthy Conflict, Peaceful Life: a Biblical Guide to Communicating Thoughts, Feelings and Opinions with Grace, Truth and Zero Regret. Release date is February 20, 2024 but you can pre-order your copy now wherever books are sold. Available in paperback, kindle or audible.
If you’re human you need this book!