Principles for Speaking the Truth

Confrontations can be as minor as, “That hurt my feelings. Please don’t say that again” after a one-time verbal jab. Or confrontations can address the most deeply rooted emotional issues in life. In either case, certain principles can be followed as a path of resolution in strained and broken relationships. Obviously, the less severe issues don’t require as much preparation as more painful ones, so use discretion about the degree to which these principles are to be used. It’s wise, however, to be over prepared instead of ill-prepared.

1. Be prepared.

Preparation involves knowing how we typically respond in similar situations. One man typically becomes fierce and intimidating because he’s afraid of losing control. A high school student makes flip, sarcastic remarks to prove she’s not affected by her father’s harsh criticism. A woman becomes emotionally paralyzed and gives in to whatever the other person wants. If we know our tendencies to dominate, escape, or rationalize, we have a much better chance of not giving in (as much). If we can anticipate how the other person may respond, we can walk through a few “what ifs” and be better equipped to respond as we wish.

We usually have tunnel vision and don’t see our own behavior very clearly. So we benefit from wise, objective input from a trusted friend, professional counselor, pastor, or in some cases, a lawyer. A professional can give us the feedback we need to set our course properly and role-play the conversation. When the person we confront is particularly hostile or stubborn, or when legal action is being contemplated, we may want to invite a professional to mediate.

2. Major on the majors.
We may be able to list hundreds of offenses that have hurt us or bothered us, but a long list weakens our point. Weed it out until there are only a few issues (no more than two or three) to discuss. If a lot of wounds and instances of broken trust are truly significant, you can talk about a few during the first meeting. If these are successfully resolved, the others can be addressed later.

3. Set the agenda.
You can set up the meeting by calling to say, “I’d like to talk to you about our relationship. Can you meet me at ten o’clock Saturday morning to talk?” But be careful that you don’t get pulled into a discussion about the issues at that point. Stay in control. If the person demands an explanation on the phone, say, “I don’t want to talk about it right now. We can talk at length on Saturday.”

When the meeting begins, don’t be vague about the topic of conversation. Even though your stomach may be in knots and your mind is racing, state clearly what you see as the problem and communicate your desire to resolve the problem. Typically, the person you’re confronting is at least as nervous as you are. (But he hasn’t prepared like you have!) You can expect him to use whatever manipulative techniques he has used on you before: self-pity, anger, yelling, silence, blaming you for the whole problem, accepting all the blame just to end the meeting, and so on. He may try to get you off track by bringing up other problems. Many of us get confused and flustered at this point. To make sure you can keep on track with your goal for the meeting, take a written agenda with you. When you need to refocus your thoughts (and for some of us, that’s immediately after we say hello), pull out the sheet and follow your plan.

4. Clarify what is said.
One of the most effective ways to confront someone is to “hold up a mirror” by repeating what he has said or describing what she has done. You might say, “This is what I hear you saying. . . ” Repeat or rephrase what the person has just said to you. Quite often, they’ll feel understood and gratified that someone else can articulate what they are feeling or thinking.

Sometimes, however, the person may respond, “No, that’s not it at all.” At that point, you can say, “Maybe I misunderstood. Explain it to me again if you don’t mind.” Be aware that the person may not be objective enough to see the reality in his own statements. Either way, mirroring can lead to further discussion and understanding.

5. Stay in control.
As the discussion progresses, be aware of your feelings of hurt, fear, confusion, guilt, and anger. Notice your body language. Are you slumping in the chair as the other person blames you for every problem the two of you ever had? Sit up! Are you averting your eyes because you’re afraid of her condemnation and venomous looks? Be strong! Look her in the eye and speak the truth. Are you leaning forward, interrupting the other person and yelling? Calm down. Sit back. Apologize. And listen.

6. Accept appropriate responsibility.
We may have made the assumption that the other person is 100 percent to blame and we’re faultless, but often we contributed in some way to the problem. For instance, Phil had bailed out his alcoholic brother a dozen times with financial help. Each time, he told himself that he was doing the noble and loving thing for his brother. Only later did he realize that his enabling had prevented his brother from experiencing the consequences of his irresponsible behavior.

7. Don’t expect instant repentance.
When we finally find the courage to speak the truth, we’re foolish to think most people will immediately respond, “You’re exactly right. I’ve hurt you, and I’m truly sorry. Please forgive me. How can I make it up to you?” It happens, but not very often.

More commonly, a person’s first response is a fierce defensive reaction to being confronted, whether the specific issues are simple or complex, relatively mild or serious, short-term or long. Give the person time to reflect, pray, and think about a response and set another appointment to continue the conversation in a few days.

Adapted from Break Through by Tim Clinton

Copyright © 2012 by Tim Clinton. published by Worthy Publishing, all rights reserved, used with permission.

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