People struggle. In the process of life, you get caught in a relationship mess for one reason or another. Many times in the home, in friendships, in churches, and at work, hard conversations are necessary. In those moments, how do you confront? How do you handle that conversation?
Paul Tripp, in his classic work War of Words, suggests using the acrostic ENCOURAGE to guide you through the tough moment of confrontation. He writes:
Examine your heart. Confrontation always begins with you. Because we all struggle with indwelling sin, we must begin with ourselves. We must be sure that we have dealt with our anger, impatience, self-righteousness, and bitterness. When we start with our own confession, we are in a much better place to lead another to confess.
Note your calling. Remember that confrontation is not based on your opinion of the person. You are there as an ambassador and your job is to faithfully represent the message of the King. In other words, your goal is to help people see and accept God’s view of them.
Check your attitude. When you speak, are your words spoken in kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, forbearance, compassion, and love? Failure to do this will hinder God-honoring, change-producing confrontation. We need to examine both our message and our attitude as we speak.
Own your own faults. It is vital to enter moments of confrontation with a humble recognition of who we really are. As we admit our own need for the Lord’s forgiveness, we are able to be patient and forgiving with the one to whom God has called us to minister.
Use words wisely. Effective confrontation demands preparation, particularly of our words. We need to ask God to help us use words that carry his message, not get in the way of it.
Reflect on Scripture. The content of confrontation is always the Bible. It guides what we say and how we say it. We should enter moments of confrontation with a specific understanding of what Scripture says about the issues at hand. This means more than citing proof texts; it means understanding how the themes, principles, perspectives, and commands of Scripture shape the way we think about the issues before us.
Always be prepared to listen. The best, most effective confrontation is interactive. We need to give the person an opportunity to talk, since we cannot look into his heart or read his mind. We need to welcome his questions and look for signs that he is seeing the things he needs to see. We need to listen for true confession and the commitment to specific acts of repentance. As we listen, we will learn where we are in the confrontation process.
Grant time for a response. We must give the Holy Spirit time to work. There is nothing in Scripture that promises that if we do our confrontation work well, the person will confess and repent in one sitting. Rather, the Bible teaches us that change is usually a process. We need to model the same patience God has granted us. This patience does not compromise God’s work of change, but flows out of a commitment to it.
Encourage the person with the gospel. It is the awesome grace of God, his boundless love, and his ever-present help that give us a reason to turn from our sin. Scripture says that it is the kindness of God that leads people to repentance (Rom. 2:4). The truths of the gospel – both its challenges and its comfort – must color our confrontation.
No one enjoys the confrontation process. However, when it is necessary, Tripp’s acrostic ENCOURAGE comes in handy and is useful to help the process produce what it needs to produce – an opportunity to honor God even in confrontation.
If you struggle in communication generally, I highly recommend this book in its entirety to you. This is one of the best books I have ever read on communication and arguably is one of Tripp’s best works. You can order your copy here.