How to bring up sensitive topics

sensitive_det_largeLife is filled with sensitive issues. Right?

At times, you need to bring up a sensitive topic with others.

Unfortunately, most of us have examples of how NOT to bring it up. We’ve tried to bring it up. And it didn’t go well.

That doesn’t mean we should stop bringing things up. But it does mean we should consider how to do it more effectively next time.

So how do you bring it up?

Here are a few things I’ve learned.

#1 – Let them tell you how to bring it up.

This is a proactive step in relationships. Before there is anything sensitive to bring up, ask them (your spouse, roommate, office mate), “If I needed to speak to you about something sensitive, how could I do it so you’d be receptive to hearing me and conversing about it?”

They may want to read it in an email and have some time to think before talking in person. Or they may want to talk face-to-face immediately.

They may want you to be forthright in your comments or they may ask you to first hear them out?

Ultimately, they may disagree with your perception. But, if you do this, they can’t disagree with the approach you took. Read more on how matter and manner matter

#2 – Resist the urge to NOT bring it up.

There is a time to overlook and just move on. Read more on how ignoring is not the path to redeeming

Most people do not truly overlook such sensitive things. Instead they bleed out their concerns and criticisms in unhealthy ways like gossip and slander.

My rule is three strikes. If I think about it three times that’s an indication I need to bring it up.

Then we should discuss it, work it through, and move on.

#3 – Seek clarity before rendering judgment.

Rendering judgment without all the facts is foolishness. It will also be painful and time-consuming.

Instead, hearing another person out often reveals the breakdown. Isn’t this the plot of every sitcom? Simple misunderstanding leads to a domino of crazy events before coming to resolution.

Here’s how you do it. Say, “Help me to understand…” and then finish the line with whatever you observed. Help me to understand “these words,” “that action,” or “that decision.”

Help me to understand will yield clarity, at minimum. But it may even bring resolution.

#4 – Be forward-looking in your criticism. 

If there was a mistake, don’t beat them up about it. They can’t change the past.

Instead, consider a future reality (ideally, one they’re excited about) that is impossible if this pattern continues. Such an approach situates you alongside them rather than opposed to them.

This doesn’t mean that hurt should never be expressed. Expressing hurt is appropriate. But it should never be done where the main intent is to counter-hurt the other.

#5 – Reaffirm love and commitment to the friendship/relationship.

If I’m assured that at the end of the conversation this person will still love me and is committed to me, I can listen to just about anything, no matter how sensitive.

Make clear it’s your love and commitment that demand you bring up sensitive topics. It’s not because it’s easy. Or you like it. Or you like to make them feel bad. It’s for long-term health and vitality.

Those are a few of my tips.

What do you got? Seriously, add your thoughts. This is a conversation!

Posted on by Cor in LEADERSHIP

7 Responses to How to bring up sensitive topics

  1. Ryan S

    Cor, I think one thing I’ve learned from you is to try and understand somebody first. It’s not a strength of mine as I usually try and win an argument…but usually if I think I ‘won’ the argument, I’ve lost the person.

    • Vicki

      Hi Ryan,

      Have you considered not thinking about these type of conversations as “arguments”? That will almost certainly set you up for failure. You don’t have to be right. Your job isn’t to “win them over.” Just like with evangelism, our job isn’t to win them for Christ. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. Your job is to point out the sin or issue. Conviction is the job of the Holy Spirit.

      Just a thought.

      • Ryan S

        Yes Thanks Vicki. I totally 100% agree with you. I am slowly learning to put to death my argumentative nature and replace with a desire to understand and a stronger desire to love. I think it’s just one of those things where it has taken time for my actions to fall in line with what I believe:-) Thanks for the comment.

  2. F

    I don’t have a ton of thoughts as I’ve literally been looking for ways to bring up some things with one of my flatmates. I wasn’t sure how to approach them without hem feeling attacked or getting defensive. So I’ve decided to let it go & that has worked a couple times to where they have said what’s going on with them simply by giving time in the morning at the table.
    I also try to remember what are they bringing to the situation? What am I bringing? What scars? Or past is underneath it all? & love. Am I loving them through all this? Am I attacking?

    Thanks for the tidbits!

  3. Vicki

    I think Step 1 needs to be prayer, both about your heart and perception of what is going on and about what you should say if God is leading you to say something.

    I had never thought of your step 1. I have always played by the “one on one in person” rule for really sensitive stuff. The reason I do is that there are so many non-verbal things said during that time. They can look into your eyes and see love and compassion not judgement and hate. That being said, you’re right. There is something to be said about asking a person how they want to be confronted on things. But this conversation needs to happen prior to having an issue. I often tell new friends/roommates, “Hey, I know I’m blunt and forward and can be oblivious to things at times. Please, if I ever do or say something offensive or hurtful, know it’s not on purpose and please tell me. I may never know if you don’t tell me.” This also gives them the opening to say how they would like to be confronted….if at all.

    The only other thing I would add is to be as specific as possible without it sounding like you are keeping a score card. For example, saying something like, “I’ve observed you doing ____ and I’m not sure you realize this, but it comes across to others as ____.”

    If you are vague or say something like, “I can’t give specific details or examples,” I’ve found that it almost discredits you.

    I’m not perfect and I’ve made my fair share of screw ups…but God has gifted me with Exortation, so I end up finding myself in this role often!

  4. Anon

    I know Leadership is a Christian buzzword these days. But, the over-focus on this seems to be leading to relational perfectionism.

    We’re going to step on each other. If you’re really sensitive, you’re going to get hurt a lot.

    Setting one person up as a leader, may give them a false sense of confidence in their position. I always thought that it’d be cool if Trek 1 of LDI was re-named Follower-ship Development Institute. Wonder how many people would sign-up for that.

  5. Brian Maciasek

    Your message “kinda” reminded of this blog site of mine… SEE WHAT YOU THINK, Cor. HAVE A HAPPY FESTIVE SEASON!!!

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