[List] Difficult conversation partners: Which type are you?

marine-drill-sergeantMinistry and leadership are about difficult conversations. A lack of willingness or of skill in this area is a big limiting factor in effectiveness. How do you correct another leader who is acting inappropriately? How do receive criticism about the content of a sermon? How do you work out the missteps and missed steps in partnering with another department? How do you share about your spiritual journey? All of these are difficult conversations. Most of us get little training in the art of the difficult conversation. What we know of it we absorb from those around us: parents, teachers, spouses, bosses, pastors. I think its fair to say that those model vary in their effectiveness–some are far better than others.

Five Types of “Difficult Conversation” partners

There are at least five types of conversation partners in these difficult conversations, at least from my observation. Feel free to add  your own in the comment boxes below!

  1. The drill instructor. The key word here is intensity, often vocal intensity (read: shouting). Have a difficult conversation with a drill instructor and there will be bulging veins, flushed faces, and eventually hoarseness.
  2. The church lady. It’s all smiles and gentle words with this one in the middle of a difficult conversation, but beneath the butter frosting there’s a vinegar-laced cake. Once you get beneath the veneer you’ll find a cauldron of intense feelings bottled and under pressure.
  3. The lawyer. The name of the game is facts and rational connection. Enter a difficult conversation with this partner and he’ll probably win the argument, but lose your heart.
  4. The motivational speaker. In a difficult conversation with this person, you’re their best friend. Expect a smattering of lingo to help you “align” with the organization, reach your full “potential,” and maximize your “impact.”
  5. The sage. Having a difficult conversation with this dude will leave you tied in knots and with no resolution. The sage enters the conversation then withdraws to contemplate…and never returns.

You’re probably one of these difficult conversation partners and you probably know someone who fits into one of others types on the list or one I haven’t thought of yet. Feel free to add  your own in the comment boxes below! Interacting with each takes some skill and some practice.

In an upcoming post I’ll look at how to improve your skills in having difficult conversations, especially conversations about the things that matter most.