I can just feel it; I am sitting in a public space and someone says something that I find offensive, patronizing, ignorant or otherwise infuriating. I can barely think. Then, I may flush from emotion, I feel my own “fight or flight” hormones rushing through my body. Usually, within an hour or two, I find some “snappy comeback” that isn’t snappy at all because it took me two hours to think of it. Without a doubt, the experience is disorienting and uncomfortable, even if all I do is pay for my coffee and keep walking. The experience lingers and I wonder if I wish I could just forget.
But without a doubt, I know that I am called to engage in difficult conversations.
Whether it is at home, or with the pastor at Mars Hill. I cannot ignore the worlds and words of others, sticking only with those who “think just like me.”
It is very difficult and I do a lot of reading about this, how to have those difficult conversations. As a pastor, I am called to go into situations that are full of discomfort and I need tools to help me survive the experience, learn and grow through them.
Here are some of what I I have found I need to put in my toolkit for difficult situations and difficult conversations:
- Humility. I know my experience and interpretation of experience, but not another person’s. I have limited information. I’d better go out to coffee with you!
- Curiosity. Tell me about your experience, tell me about how you see things, what you value. I’d better listen hard!
- Self awareness. I know a lot about my own inner rules, my personal values that motivate me. This I will articulate, without assuming that you know it, or necessarily share it.
- Self assurance. I can hear someone else speak from a different value system without it destroying my own. And over time, I have also learned that I will not find common ground or even respect, in every difficult conversation. Sometimes, I find, the only thing to do is walk away. We may never have coffee again.
That is just a little of what I find is needed for the difficult conversations of my life.
I would sure love to hear what others have in their toolkits.
And yes, I wonder if anybody in the church community is going to offer a “welcome to Spokane” chat with the leaders of Mars Hill Church when they come to town? It is sure to include difficult conversations sooner or later! Well? Coffee anyone?
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