Important Conversations

Leadership avoided the important conversations”

I will never forget that response. The person was an experienced church planter and he was a good example of how to raise up healthy leaders. But more importantly, he was accessible to those who wanted to learn what he had learned.  I happened to be sitting at the same table with him at a leadership retreat and I went for it. I started picking his brain about leadership matters and church planting. I remember asking the question, ‘What is the one thing that gets churches into trouble or at least gets them floundering?’ His response was immediate. “Leadership avoided the important conversations.”

His remark ‘stuck’. I’ve thought about that response for many years now and have experienced the value of recognizing when an important conversation is needed, and then following through and having it. It is not that I am proficient with these kinds of conversations but I have seen the good that comes when I have them.

So how do you know you need to have an important conversation?

If you are a leader, you simply know which ones they are. They are the ones that you would rather not have.  They are the ones you avoid. You had hoped things would improve but the situation is disintegrating fast. They are the ones everyone else is waiting for you to have because you are the leader. You know which ones they are because the need for the conversation keeps interrupting your ‘quiet times’ with the Lord.

If having an important conversation makes you feel squeamish, take heart. It most likely means you care about your relationship with that person. If you didn’t care you would just jump in and deal with the issue as impatiently as possible. However, that is not your case. You do care. You don’t want to make the situation worst.

Let’s say you see a need for an important conversation and you are not sure where to start.

The following is a general process I follow.

Maybe you can benefit from this, or better yet, improve upon it. The first thing I do is put an appointment in my calendar with myself. I look for the next possible opening to go to a quiet distraction free area and think through the conversation that I need to have. That one action triggers the following.

  1. When I get settled into a place to think this through, I begin by interceding for the person I need to meet with and spend time asking the Lord to help me gain insight into their heart and motivations as it relates to topic at hand. (I admit before God that I don’t have the full picture; that I most likely have a log in my eye, and I really need His heart of compassion. I don’t rush this by throwing up a ‘quick prayer’. I wait on Him).
  2. Next, I get real clear on what I want the conversation to focus on. I’ll ask myself this question. “If I was only allowed to speak to the person about one thing, what would that be?”
  3. Then, I try to imagine every question the person will ask me about the matter at hand. I think through how I would answer each question in a way that moves the conversation forward. Typically, I begin by thinking about what kinds of questions I might ask in return. Not to dodge their question, but to make sure I understand what they are asking me for.
  4. Following that, I plan out the first couple of minutes of the conversation. Besides prayer, this is the most critical part of my planning. I think deeply about how to explain what I want to talk about in a way that leads into a productive conversation. I also think about the best place and the best time to have the conversation. If at all possible I want to have the conversation face to face.
  5. Then I go ahead and schedule it with the person.
  6. When I go have the conversation the only thing I have planned is the first few minutes of the conversation, which addresses the question ‘why we are meeting’. From there on I place my focus on listening carefully to them, remaining curious and asking questions that keep moving the conversation forward. I want it to be a conversation, not a coercive encounter. Yet, I also never lose my focus on why we are meeting.

Regardless of why I am meeting with someone, my most important goal is do what is possible on my end to build trust with the person I am meeting with. That usually requires that I take a much more humble posture than I would have if I hadn’t taken the time to think this through well.

Am I successful with this? That depends how you define success. I prefer to think about it in terms of faithfulness. Was I faithful to follow through? Did I do so with God’s heart for the person I am meeting with?

What I shared here are some things I have found helpful to improve my skills in this area.  I would love to hear what you have learned from your own experiences. Be sure to leave you thoughts in the comments below.

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