Five Core Competencies of Conflict Resolution Part Two: Lovingly Reprove
by Rick Love
People usually respond to conflict in one of two ways: we seek to ensure our well-being by avoiding contact with our offenders, or we find ways to defeat them. Psychologists refer to this as the “fight or flight” syndrome. In the heat of an argument people will either want to pull a power play (fight) or a walk-away (flight).
But Jesus calls us to a third way. We neither distance ourselves from offenders nor attack them. Instead, we lovingly reprove them.
This is part two in a series about the five core competencies of conflict resolution:
- Take Responsibility
- Lovingly Reprove
- Accept Reproof
- Ask for forgiveness
- Forgive others
These core competencies in conflict resolution equip us to mend relations, increase harmony, and decrease alienation. These are “core” in the sense that they are at the heart of all peacemaking.
Lovingly Reprove: the second core competency of conflict resolution
In my last blog I focused on taking responsibility. We are accountable for our part in the conflict, and we take initiative by going to the person privately.
But what do we say? This is the second core competency. We tell them how they hurt us, where we think they were wrong, or where we think they caused conflict. The Bible calls this “reproving or rebuking,” something Jesus repeatedly commands us to do.
"So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3).
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over" (Matthew 18:15).
To reprove someone requires courage to speak difficult words. It involves being emotionally honest about ways someone has hurt us or others. But we need to do this in such a way as to resolve the conflict and restore the relationship.
The goal of reproof is not to prove that you were right and the other person was wrong. The goal is reconciliation. Because of this, we don’t just reprove the offender. We “lovingly reprove” them.
It is often said that honesty is the best policy. But honesty alone is not Jesus’s policy. How we communicate is also important. We don’t attack the person; we attack the problem.
We are commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Both truth and love are important! Jesus models this for us in the book of Revelation: "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent" (Revelation 3:19). Jesus’s rebuke comes from a heart of love. Ours must too.
Peacemakers understand that God is concerned about both what we say and how we say it.
So how do we do this practically? Here are six practices that will help you lovingly reprove:
- Prepare your heart. Ask the Lord to fill you with His love for the offender. This is not a nice “devotional” suggestion. This is a necessity for Jesus brand peacemaking. Reconciliation is an act of love.
- Prepare your words. This will take time, yet your initial comments should be said in about 1 minute. I either write or rehearse in my head the points I want to cover in the initial conversation. Here are some of the main points that need to be addressed:
A. Begin on a positive note. If possible, try to affirm the person before confronting. This is what Jesus did with the churches in the book of Revelation in chapters 2-3. For example, “Susan, I really appreciate how well you organize the meetings. Thanks for your hard work in putting them on. I am concerned about one thing that you said during the meeting and wanted to talk to you about it …”
B. You can also begin by asking questions: “Hey John, you seemed distant and angry the other day. Is everything alright? Have I offended you in some way?”
C. Name the issue as concretely as possible.
D. Give an example of when this happened.
E. Describe your emotions about this issue. Don’t use the accusatory word, “You.” Instead say, “I feel … when you did this.”
F. Clarify why this is important.
G. Identify your contribution to the problem.
H. Indicate your desire to resolve the issue.
- Stick to the facts. You don’t know people's motives. We often get offended because we think they did it intentionally to hurt us or others.
- Focus on the problem, not the person. What is the “act” that offended you? In doing mediation in the workplace, we encourage people to write up the business problem. For example, “John usually comes late to our meetings and is not prepared for them.” That is very different than saying John is a bad person.
- Invite the person to respond. This is where the heart of the dialogue takes place. Listen carefully to what he or she says. Don't get defensive. Sympathize with their feelings, ask clarifying questions as needed, and keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand. Don't get side-tracked.
- End with resolution. Come to an agreement about what has been said and what will happen next: "What is needed for resolution?", "How can we move forward from here?", "Has anything been left unsaid that needs to be said?", "What more can I do from my end to show my support for our relationship?" etc.
I would love to hear about practices you have learned about loving reproof!