Lessons in Confrontation
What I learned in a very uncomfortable meeting
Stomach in knots, throat tightened, and holding back waves of nausea…you might think I was battling a virus. Not so. In my mind, it was something far worse: confrontation. My body was reacting to my emotional turmoil as I sat across the conference table from another woman in leadership. And it was not just the two of us. The conflict had escalated to the point where our husbands and pastors were involved. Uncomfortable, awkward, painful, yes. But the leadership lessons I gleaned that day were invaluable.
Inherent in leadership is the probability that you are going to tick someone off or offend someone to the point of confrontation. Sitting at the conference table, I knew the trajectory of this conversation would be determined by my willingness to humble myself. But how could I humble myself when I felt like jumping across the table and punching her lights out? Here are a few tips I used to prepare my heart and mind.
• I reminded myself that this woman was not my enemy. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
• I prayed that God would bless her family, her work, her ministry. Matthew 5:43-48 says, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” After reading this, I knew I would be no different from a nonbeliever if I didn’t choose to love this woman. Love trumps everything.
• Remember, humility enables you to say, “Perhaps you are right” and keeps you from getting defensive.
I knew that if I didn’t forgive this woman I would be stuck in a prison of bitterness, hatred, and unforgiveness. I had a choice to make. I could either stay stuck in a quagmire or break free and choose to forgive. I chose forgiveness. I wanted to go into the meeting with a heart ready to seek understanding and restore our relationship. The goal was not for us to be best friends, but to have mutual respect and understanding so we could work together. Here are a few steps to aid the process of forgiving.
• I wrote Scriptures about forgiveness on three-by-five cards and kept them in strategic places where I would easily see them: my office desk, my car, my bathroom mirror.
• I read books on forgiveness.
• I reminded myself that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. I knew I needed to choose forgiveness.
3. Letting Go and Moving Forward
Viewing this person as a gift was the first step in moving forward. Challenges in ministry provide the greatest opportunities for spiritual growth, which in turn enrich our leadership. Prior to this situation, I didn’t realize how much pride, insecurity, and jealousy were lurking in the recesses of my soul. This relational fracture forced me to look deeply at my character and examine my internal life. Here are steps I used to move forward:
• Seeing this leader as a gift instead of an adversary allowed me to examine my heart, revealing character flaws I needed to deal with.
• Giving my pastor permission to address blind spots in my character held me accountable for my attitude.
• Remembering that there is no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) freed me to receive grace, forgive myself, and move forward.
Since that uncomfortable meeting in that conference room, my relationship with the woman is peaceful. Honestly, I occasionally have a negative internal reaction to her, but in those moments I remember that forgiveness and love are choices, and I choose to love and honor her. I have faced other challenging relational situations since, giving me more opportunities to humble myself, choose forgiveness, and move forward.
The leadership lessons I gleaned from confrontation have helped strengthen my leadership. Lessons such as empathizing and helping other women through relational difficulties; identifying and addressing internal weaknesses in myself before they become problems; highlighting the principles of unity, honor, and respect with my leaders; being quick to forgive and slow to offend; and giving people the benefit of the doubt.
A beautiful result from these lessons has been a more intimate love relationship with the Lord. Becoming more aware of my need for him—and his unconditional love, mercy, and grace for me in spite of my soul-deep imperfections—has deepened my relationship with him, causing me to more fully love those I serve.