Confront People without Offending Them
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2009 25 May
A husband who won’t help his wife with household chores. A spendthrift woman who’s constantly trying to borrow money from her friends. A boss with an anger problem who alienates his employees. A grandma who’s tired of being asked to babysit so often that she doesn’t have enough time to herself. These are just a few examples of the many issues that, if not dealt with, can permanently damage relationships.
All too often, people either avoid conflict or deal with it in clumsy, ineffective ways. Such approaches only make conflicts worse. But if you follow God’s call to confront people without offending them, you can resolve conflicts, strengthen relationships, and grow personally in the process.
Here’s how you can confront people without offending them:
Aim for a goal. Before confronting someone, clarify what you hope to achieve through the confrontation. Retaliation should never be your goal. If you have a vengeful attitude, confess it and ask God to cleanse your thoughts toward the person you want to confront.
Aim to use a confrontation to resolve whatever issue is causing conflict between you and the other person. Consider what specific outcome you’d like to see result from the confrontation – having someone stop a negative behavior, start a positive behavior, or make some other change – and keep that goal in mind when you confront the person.
Confront whether you’re the offended or the offender. God wants you to try to resolve conflict through confrontation whether someone else has offended you or whether you’ve offended someone. If you’ve been offended, don’t repress your feelings; that will only lead to bitterness that will poison your soul and express itself in unhealthy ways in your life.
If you’ve offended someone, remember that it’s your responsibility to take action toward reconciliation. Work to overcome excuses and defensiveness no matter what the situation. Be willing to confront to try to work out the issue, since God has given you a mandate to initiate reconciliation whether you are the offended or the offender.
Understand different conflict management styles. Dictators handle conflict by charging, commanding, demanding, directing, imposing, mandating, ordering, proclaiming, ruling, calling the shots, and laying down the law. Sometimes that style is necessary because moral values are at stake or the common good is being threatened. But often, dictators need to focus more on hearing and valuing other people’s input.
Accommodators handle conflict through adapting, adjusting, conforming, indulging, obliging, pleasing, or accommodating to other people’s needs and desires. Accommodators are good at listening, which is a key skill in working through conflicts. But they need to learn to set boundaries to let others know that their negative or insensitive behavior toward them is not acceptable.
Abdicators handle conflict by retreating, bowing out, quitting, stepping down, separating themselves from situations, dropping out, walking away, abandoning, resigning, surrendering, or yielding. But by running away, abdicators make it impossible to resolve their conflicts. They need to express their needs through “I” statements that tell others what they feel when they experience the behavior that’s causing the conflict and explain what they’d like to see happen.
Collaborators deal with conflict in the healthiest way, through cooperating, joining forces, uniting, pulling together, participating, and co-laboring to find a way to resolve the issue. Consider what style you tend to use the most, and think and pray about how you can better work with others as a collaborator. Do you need to be more respectful of authority, value other people’s input more, or communicate more clearly? Try to choose the collaborator style as often as possible when managing conflict.
Prepare for the encounter. Before you confront someone, first be honest about why you’ve decided to confront him or her about the issue. Do you have an ulterior motive (such as trying to make the person feel guilty) or do you want to see a genuine change in behavior? Remind yourself that your goal should be to resolve a specific issue for God’s glory.
Choose the right time and place for the confrontation, and try to make sure that you talk with the person when you all can be alone instead of in front of others. Pray to prepare your heart and mind before the confrontation.
Own the problem. Speak on your own behalf, explaining how the problem has affected you personally or how you perceive the issue rather than shifting the attention to other people’s perspectives. Take responsibility for expressing your own thoughts and feelings clearly and directly to the person you’re confronting.
Speak the right words. Pray for the wisdom to choose the words that will help you most effectively communicate with the person, and for the peace you need to deliver those words in a calm tone of voice. Describe specifically what you’ve observed or experienced, since being too general will make it easy for the person to deny wrongdoing or misinterpret your message.
For every negative statement you need to make while discussing the issue at hand, try to make a positive statement affirming the person’s worth and your commitment to the relationship both before and after making the negative statement. That will help the person know that you are rejecting his or her behavior, but not him or her as a person.
When you criticize, do so constructively, giving the person information to help him or her solve the problem and being careful to preserve the person’s dignity. Listen to the person with an open mind. Admit your own mistakes. Work with the person to find mutually agreeable ways to move forward.
Listen well. When you listen, you create an environment where the person you’re confronting feels that he or she has been heard and his or her thoughts and feelings have been validated. That will motivate the person to try to resolve the conflict with you. Try to fully understand the person’s intentions and objectives rather than jumping to conclusions. Verify facts before making accusations. Explain your own actions when the person has questions about them. Ask questions to clarify what the person is telling you; then paraphrase what you think the person has said to make sure you understand correctly.
Negotiate future behavior. Try to work out a mutual agreement on how to move forward after the confrontation. But keep in mind that the only behavior you have the power to change is your own. Determine how much you’re willing to compromise without violating your core values or self-respect to achieve harmony.
Forgive the offender. Let your gratitude for how much God has forgiven you motivate you to obey His call to forgive those who have offended you. Decide to forgive – despite your feelings – and rely on God’s help to do so, trusting that your feelings will gradually change in the process.
While your decision to forgive should be immediate, restoring trust in your relationship with the offender is a process that may take a long time. For true restoration to take place, the offender must first repent and show consistent behavior that gives evidence of his or her change of heart. However, whether or not the person who has offended you ever apologizes or repents, you must forgive him or her to obey God’s call and free your soul from the poison of bitterness. If you’re having difficulty choosing to forgive someone, pray for that person, and God will help you become more willing to forgive.
After you choose to forgive, stop rehearsing the offense in your mind. Leave it in the past and focus on your future.
Get to know various temperaments. Understand your own temperament and that of others influences how each of you naturally communicate. Figure out the needs, fears, preferences, and propensities toward certain behaviors that come naturally to yourself and other people. Keep that in mind to devise strategies with each person to improve the way you interact with him or her.
Published May 22, 2009
Adapted from Confronting without Offending: Positive and Practical Steps to Resolving Conflict, copyright 2009 by Deborah Smith Pegues. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Or., www.harvesthousepublishers.com.
Deborah Smith Pegues is an experienced certified public accountant, a Bible teacher, a speaker, and a certified behavioral consultant specializing in understanding personality temperaments. As well as the bestselling 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue (more than 300,000 sold), she has authored 30 Days to Taming Your Finances and 30 Days to Taming Your Stress. She and her husband, Darnell, have been married for nearly 30 years and make their home in California.