As we strive to create genuine community, we learn that holding one another accountable and confronting each other with love are both important components of building lasting relationships. While we’d rather focus on the aspects of friendship that bring us joy — the quality time we spend together, for example, or the fun memories we share — we have to balance easygoing conversations and laughter with thought-provoking discussions and, sometimes, difficult confrontations.
We show love to others by treating them well, certainly, but also by standing up during difficult times to serve as a mirror — as a reflection of the truth — and approaching someone about certain behaviors, attitudes or actions that are negatively affecting themselves and others. This not only helps us remain honest with one another, but it also creates depth within our relationships, a richness that helps our friendships stand the test of time.
So, how do we go about confronting someone in a loving way? How do we initiate conversations about difficult topics and simultaneously ensure that we don’t isolate or irrevocably hurt the people we love the most?
Identify the single issue you want to discuss.
Often when there’s something difficult we want to discuss with a loved one, tensions run high and conversations can become emotional. Instead of focusing on the topic at hand, we can get carried away, led down a path full of unrelated tangents and hurtful conversational grenades. Eventually we say things we don’t mean, things we can’t take back. We’ve lost sight of why we’re having the conversation in the first place and, as a result, the relationship is threatened (and possibly even irreparably damaged).
Prior to engaging in a tough conversation with someone you care about, identify the single issue that you want to address. Focusing the discussion on one issue helps keep things simple, preventing the conversation from spiraling out of control. Prepare mental bullet points that not only support your main point, but also keep the discussion flowing. Avoid passive aggressive comments and be direct, focusing on one simple message that you want to convey instead of splintering off into several different topics.
By creating a game plan in advance when you’re feeling calm and rational, you’ll set yourself up to have a successful conversation.
Approach others with communication styles in mind.
Before sitting down with a loved one to discuss a difficult topic, consider their personality and conversation style. Are they an introvert, an extrovert or somewhere in between? Is it easy for them to be vulnerable and open, or does it take a lot for them to feel safe enough to confide in others? Do they enjoy sharing their feelings, or do they prefer to keep their innermost thoughts to themselves?
Based on the answers to these questions, seek out an appropriate method for confronting someone you love. Keep your surroundings in mind, too. While an extrovert might feel more comfortable having a difficult conversation in a public place, like a coffee shop, an introvert might feel more confident discussing tough things in a safer space, like their own home.
Always speak from a place of love.
Regardless of the topic at hand, continually remind your friend or family member of how much you love them in order to keep the conversation grounded. Expressing your love just once won’t cut it, as the sentiment will likely get lost in the shuffle of the difficult conversation. Instead, reinforce your feelings for your loved one throughout the discussion by highlighting positive behaviors and things they’ve done right instead of focusing solely on negative attitudes and things they’ve done wrong.
Communicate with kindness and grace, giving your loved one the benefit of the doubt before leaping to conclusions. Make sure to actively listen and, before providing responding to something your friend says, ensure that you understand what she is trying to say; listening carefully and clarifying your loved one’s point will help avoid misinterpretation and the discussion escalating into an argument. Continually remind your pal that this conversation is coming from a place of love, not judgment or condemnation.
While we hope tips like these will help you confront someone you love in a kind, thoughtful and productive way, we understand that some hard conversations may warrant the involvement of a professional mediator – especially if there might be abuse, addiction or another destructive behavior at play. Seeking the assistance of a professional is a worthwhile tactic that will help preserve your relationship while simultaneously identifying steps to take to solve the communication crisis at hand.
In the end, despite our best efforts, some people might not respond to our confrontation in the best way. They may be hurt and act distant; it may take time for them to want to communicate with us again. While we can’t control others’ actions, we can ensure that our hearts are in the right place before entering into a difficult conversation.
As long as our intentions are humbly motivated, our approach is gentle and our delivery is thoughtful, we can rest assured that we’ve done our very best to confront our loved ones with kindness.