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5 Tips on How to Have That Critical Conversation You’re Too Afraid to Have

5 Tips on How to Have That Critical Conversation You’re Too Afraid to Have

Lasting-Impact-CoverCarey Nieuwhof is a leader you need to follow and I count him as a friend. This week he released his latest book and I’m honored to have him guest post here today at unSeminary. Carey has led through some incredible change at his church … he’s not talking about theory but reality! Pick up a copy of his book for your entire team and work through it together.

5 Tips on How to Have That Critical Conversation You’re Too Afraid to Have

By Carey Nieuwhof
Pastor, Connexus Church and Author of Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow

There are always conversations you need to have but you don’t know how to have. It’s true in life and it’s very true in leadership.

How do you tell the person who’s not working out that they’re not working out?
How do you talk about the fact that so much needs to change in your church?
How do you get your somewhat resistant board to open their minds to new possibilities?

As a leader, you’ve probably already flagged more than a few issues you would love to talk about with your team. Issues such as:

Why is our church not growing faster?
Why do people seem to be attending church less often?
How healthy is our team (really)?
Why is it so hard to attract and keep high capacity volunteers?
Why are young adults walking away from the church in record numbers?
What’s happening in our culture that we might not be responding to?
What are we actually prepared to change around here?

In my time in leadership at Connexus, we’ve had every one of those conversations. And they’ve resulted in our church growing from a handful of churched people to over 1000 people each weekend, 60% of whom had no previous church background—all in a region where 96% of the population don’t attend church.

I believe:

  • Having the right conversations can change your trajectory.
  • There is more hope than you realized.
  • The potential to grow is greater than the potential to decline.
  • Your community is waiting for a church to offer the hope they’re looking for.
  • Your best days as a church are ahead of you.

Maybe the future belongs to the churches that are willing to have the most honest conversations at a critical time. That’s what my new book, Lasting Impact is designed to facilitate.

So how do you have the conversations that will lead to real breakthrough for your church?

How do you get started? What do you say? And what happens if people disagree or things get heated?

5 Tips on How to Have That Critical Conversation You’re Too Afraid to Have

Here are 5 tips that can help.

1. Frame the issue thoughtfully and in advance
People hate to be caught off guard by a challenging conversation.

Understanding what’s on the table before you get to the table helps so much.

Obviously, if you’re dealing with personal conflict, a short window of notice is helpful (Hearing “Hey, we’re going to talk about your poor performance next month” isn’t helping anyone.) But a heads up the day before (“tomorrow we’ll review what happened last week”) can help everyone prepare.

If you’re talking about a chronic issue that your church needs to address or a topic that can help lead you into a better future, framing the issue well and framing it in advance is critical. It helps everyone show up having thought through what’s at stake.

That’s one of the reasons I wrote each chapter of Lasting Impact the way I did. My hope is it will frame the issues for your team in a way that makes the conversation healthy and meaningful.

2. Stay clear about what you’re discussing
I personally find one of the greatest challenges of having conversations with leaders is keeping people focused.

Even if you frame the issue well in advance, meetings can veer off on rabbit trails before you know what’s happening. Frankly, this seems to be a characteristic of many leaders (I’m the king of rabbit trails in meetings).

How do you combat that? Write down the exact points you want to cover to keep you and your team focused.

And don’t just keep it to yourself. State what you hope to accomplish in the meeting so when you leave you know you made progress.

So what does this look like?

If you’re navigating a longer, multi-meeting conversation, your goal might be to ‘introduce the topic’ or to ‘establish whether we want to tackle this issue’.
If you can accomplish the discussion in a night, your objective might be to decide on three possible courses of action or to create a 6-month action plan.

If you know ahead of time what you want to accomplish, you are far more likely to accomplish it. People will also feel their time has been much better spent.

3. Attack problems, not people
If you’re really having an intense discussion (and you should be having these if you want to make progress), emotions may get heated.

When they do, make sure you attack problems, not people. It can be so easy to personalize conflict. We do it in our marriages all the time when we say things like “You always…” or “You never…”.

Big mistake.

Let the people you’re talking with know that you’re for them, and what you’re trying to do is to attack a problem together. The fact that you disagree might actually be an advantage because it can help you get a more varied perspective on the problem.

When my emotions get charged, I just have to remind myself over and over again to affirm people and attack the problem.

You’ll make far more progress when you do.

4. Empathize with opposing views
I went to law school. It’s instinctive to me to dismiss an opposing point of view immediately. I can even come up with 5 reasons why their idea is a bad idea pretty quickly.

But when you do that, you don’t gain ground; you lose it.

A better approach is to actually show empathy for the opposing point of view.

Instead of saying “I can’t believe you won’t let that tradition go. That’s crazy!” what about saying “I can understand why that would be difficult to give that up. I’m sure if I were in your shoes, I would feel the same way. But what do you think about the people we’re trying to reach? Do you think our old strategy is the best strategy with which to engage them?”

Then just listen.

Do you see the difference?

When you empathize with your opponents, you often create allies. And even if you don’t, you’ve given their point of view dignity and respect. And you’ve gained the respect of the others listening.

5. Find an outside voice to help
It’s one thing for you as a leader to float your ideas. And often you need to do that.

But it can also create tension because many leaders create tension by insisting their ideas are the best or only ideas. It takes still to avoid making the conversation personal.

As a result, again and again in my time in leadership, I’ve brought in consultants, gone to conferences and solicited outside voices to help us arrive in a new place as a team.

It’s a smart strategy not just because you get the insight that comes from a fresh voice, but because the person you listened to isn’t a member of your team. As a result, disagreeing with them does not feel as risky as disagreeing with each other.

While it costs thousands of dollars to bring in a consultant or to take a team to a conference, reading a book together can often accomplish the same results for a fraction of the cost. Our teams have read many books together over the years.

That’s Why I Wrote Lasting Impact

When I wrote Lasting Impact, I crafted every chapter with team discussion in mind.

I hope the book can give teams and boards a chance to agree or disagree with someone who’s not the room in the hopes that you can agree together on what God is calling you to do next. Plus, I tried to cover the 7 issues almost every church of every size needs to tackle as they try to move forward.

As a special bonus, if you order your copy of Lasting Impact between October 6th and October 13th, you’ll get the free audio version of the book for free. Just go to after you order and fill out the bonus claim form.

Here’s hoping your future is filled with great conversations that will move your mission forward.

In the meantime, what’s helping you have great conversations with your team? Leave a comment!


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