There’s a scene in the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that reminds me of the wrong way to confront someone.
It’s the scene where Indiana Jones races through a Middle Eastern city looking for Marion, who has been kidnapped. As Indiana runs around frantically, the crowd quickly disperses and Indiana is left staring at a large, scary-looking guy whipping his sword around.
What will Indiana do? Yell at the guy? Run? Call for reinforcements? Ask for a sword of his own?
Indiana takes out his gun … and shoots the guy dead. (When I first saw the film, my friends loved that scene.)
That may be the way to handle sword-wielding bad guys, but it’s not the best way to handle a confrontation with someone you love.
And yet that’s what many people do when they confront another person.
In essence, they shoot them.
Jesus suggested a better way in Matthew 18:15: “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.”
Your brother is another Christian believer. This passage applies to sisters in the Lord as well.
And the implication is that your brother or sister has sinned against you, violating you in some way.
Let me share five hints for handling a potential confrontation in a more healthy manner:
First, confront in person.
It is not fair to confront someone in an email, or on Facebook, or in a text, or via snail mail.
The person you’re confronting can’t see your face, or hear your tone of voice, or read you at all.
I don’t like the telephone for confrontation, either – and no, I haven’t confronted anyone via Skype.
Unless impossible, confrontations should almost always be done in person.
You can convey your love for the person through your voice tone, body language, and facial expressions.
You can enter into a dialogue rather than force the other person into listening to your monologue.
You can encourage them to listen to you much easier if you confront them in person.
Second, confront them alone.
If I’m struggling with something you did wrong, or I’m concerned about our relationship, Jesus commands me to talk to you alone “just between the two of you.”
It’s not fair for me to ask someone else to confront you.
It’s not fair for me to bring two or three people into the situation … yet.
What if I’ve got the facts wrong? What if I’m seeing things incorrectly? What if I’m overreacting?
Meeting with you one-on-one is the fairest way to handle matters.
Third, deal with issues as they arise.
There is an immediacy to Jesus’ words: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault …”
But what do most of us do?
We avoid confrontation, so we wait … and stew … and get hurt again … and avoid confrontation … and stew … and get hurt again … and then:
And the object of our wrath probably has no idea about our strong feelings.
It’s an old expression, but true: keep short accounts with people.
As Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”
Handle people’s offenses as they arise.
When you avoid dealing with issues as they arise, you’ll be tempted to accumulate offenses.
You’ll keep a running list.
You’ll try and rope others into agreeing with your list.
You’ll eventually be tempted to dump the whole list of offenses on your brother or sister at once, which will seriously damage your relationship and may even end it for good.
Practice confronting people within a short time after they commit an offense. If you can’t do that, LET IT GO.
Fourth, ask for permission to confront.
We have a right to confront people with whom we are close: family, friends, long-time co-workers.
But we have the right to confront because people give us that right.
I’ve learned to say this at times: “I’ve noticed something you do that I’m not sure you’re aware of. Would it be all right for me to share that with you sometime?”
When they say yes – and most people will because they’re curious – they have just given you permission to share your concerns with them.
I went to lunch one time with a man who attended my church. We barely knew each other.
He started criticizing my preaching. I stopped him cold.
I told him that he hadn’t yet earned the right to criticize me that way … and he hadn’t. If I changed for him, how would those who liked my preaching feel?
It’s not that I can’t learn from others. I can. But some rights must be earned.
Finally, affirm your relationship.
Let the person you’re confronting know that you value their friendship and that you are “for” them, not “against” them.
Tell them, “I hope we’ll always be friends.”
In my own life, I only confront people if (a) they’re harming themselves or others, or (b) they’re harming our relationship. Otherwise, you have to let most things go.
You can never predict how people will handle a confrontation, but if you (a) confront in person, (b) confront them alone, (c) deal with issues as they arise, (d) ask for permission to confront, and (e) affirm your relationship – you have a far greater chance for success.