Difficult Conversations


If you are a pastor or leader in your church (whether that be the president of the church or a chairperson of a committee), there will be times when you will be called to lead in uncomfortable or anxious times.  Sometimes, you will be tasked to bring people

together in hopes of reconciliation. So where do you begin?  Below are some guidelines to help you navigate difficult conversations.

 Make sure YOU are comfortable with the topic.

If not, do the work to get comfortable. Confront your fears, limiting beliefs, and lack of education about the subject.

Embrace the awkwardness.

Sometimes the best place to start is by having awkward conversations. Dip your toe into the water. Be willing to make mistakes. Be ready to be vulnerable. Be willing to admit what you do not know.

Seeing the Bigger Picture.

Try not to make it personal. Work to depersonalize the bumps and bruises. Leave your baggage at the door. Remember that what surfaces only reveals about 5% of what is underneath someone's words, actions, beliefs, or behaviors.

Establish Guidelines for Group Conversations.

Consider creating a behavior covenant. Be clear that there are things that will and will not be tolerated. Give people a clear understanding of how a difficult conversation might go.

An Outside Facilitator.

Consider if you or other leaders should be the ones leading the conversation. If not, choose an outside facilitator. Make sure to clarify the expectations and how you would like them to establish ground rules. Also, ensure that others can help the facilitator read the room's temperature along the way.

 Prime the Pump for Group Conversations.

Encourage participants to first engage in some self-awareness.

Here are some excellent questions to begin with:

  • What is one thing you must do or let go of in others to enter this conversation with an open heart, mind, and spirit?
  •  What is one thing you are hoping you will gain from this experience?
  •  What is one thing that you think no one in this room knows about you or about this topic? Would sharing it open or shut down the conversation?

  Do Your Processing Afterward with a Mentor or Spiritual Director.

Make sure you take the time to process what you saw, thought, and experienced.

Keep Talking.

One mistake leaders often need to correct is thinking one conversation is enough--it never is. Keep talking. Invite people to continue thinking, pondering, considering, praying, and engaging in healthy dialogue.

Blessing, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister