Having “The Talk” at Work

We all have encountered conversations in ministry that we’d prefer not to have, whether it is dealing with staff conflict, challenging a disruptive church member, or confronting a more serious issue of misconduct. While we all have different levels of “conflict tolerance,” giving bad news is never fun. And, as pastors, we are always anxious to preserve relationships and confront each situation with love and respect. Here are a few tips that might help when you have to have “the talk.”

  • Don’t wait      
    • We can spend days or weeks pondering over the “right” thing to do, but the more time we wait just adds to the anxiety and frustration on both sides.  
    • Waiting adds to the possibility of more lasting damage – to people, your church or to relationships.
  • Pick the right time and place
    • Decide the level of confidentiality that the conversation needs. Ask for a witness to sit in, if needed.
    • Set a time limit for this discussion. If the situation isn’t resolved in that time, schedule another meeting.
    • Pick a neutral place, such as a conference room, or chapel, to help even out the balance of power (as opposed to sitting in your office). Consider having the meeting in a public space, such as a coffee shop or communal workspace, if you anticipate an overly emotional response.
  • Prepare
    • Decide upon your desired outcome in advance. What is the goal of this conversation?
    • Talk to witnesses to provide concrete examples of misconduct or malfeasance.
    • Make sure you have facts and examples, not just hearsay and opinions.
    • Make sure you are calm. Practice calming techniques before you begin.
    • Pray ahead of time. Ask for patience, wisdom and kindness.
  • Listen and engage
    • Ask to hear each side. Listen without judgment.
    • Ask constructive questions. What does each participant think is a just settlement? How can things change?
    • Allow for silence.
  • Stay focused
    • Don’t allow the conversation to get sidetracked to unrelated issues.
    • Keep moving toward the goal that you set ahead of time.
    • If things get emotional or start to escalate, call a time out for people to calm down. Don’t be afraid to end the meeting and reconvene later.
  • Preserve the relationship
    • Focus on the issue, not on personal character.
    • Use “I Statements” rather than “You Statements.”
    • Have empathy for all participants.
    • At the end of the conversation, ask how you can support each participant moving forward. Ask them what they need from you.
    • Ask if you can pray, but be prepared that not all participants may be ready to pray. Accept that with grace.