How to structure a peace-seeking conversation

The Bible offers a simple and practical strategy to resolve conflict and maintain healthy relationships: Speak the truth in love.

There are three main parts to this admonition.

1. Speak.

When relationships are strained, all parties need to verbalize their feelings and thoughts. Don’t ignore the problem or be silent — speak.

In all relationships—marriage, friendships, family, work—everyone should have the freedom to speak their thoughts.

2. Speak the truth.

When resolving conflicts, speak the truth. While most of us wouldn’t tell boldfaced lies, we may be tempted to distort or exaggerate the facts, make assumptions, or only speak part of the truth. Instead, speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

This may require that you actively pursue the truth prior to meeting with the offended party. There are two sides to every story, so it’s wise to pursue all the facts. You may be upset because you’re simply misinformed, in which case just getting the facts may resolve the issue.

3. Speak the truth in love.

Some people think that when armed with the truth, it doesn’t matter how they speak it. But the how-it-is-said factor is important for both the speaker and the hearer. The speaker should be humble and gentle in sharing the truth, which will prompt the hearer to be more receptive, which will increase the chance of restoration and reconciliation.

Years ago I was leading music in a church. One Sunday morning a teenager sang a song in the service that was outside the norm. The following day I received two e-mails about the issue. They illustrate the difference between sharing the truth in love and sharing in a blunt, coarse manner.

Email #1—Awful!! Not worshipful. Not vocally correct in any way. Do you call that music? Ruined the service for me. Wondering if you ever preview solos before the rest of us are subjected to them. Please reply.

Email #2—I enjoy a variety of musical styles and generally appreciate the contemporary music that is sung in church. However, I was disappointed with the closing music in yesterday’s service. We love you.

Here are some suggestions on how to speak the truth in love.

1. Love should be the motivation behind our sharing.

Why are we speaking? To vindicate ourselves, vent our anger, or shame others? Or to clarify situations and edify others?

2. Every individual has his or her own personal preferences as to what “speaking the truth in love” means.

Consider what those subtleties might be so that you can customize your approach. Here are some sample preferences.

“I do want you to speak the truth in love to me, but…

  • not as soon as I get home from work
  • don’t raise your voice at me
  • not in front of other people
  • allow me to share my side of the story
  • not when I’m tired.”

Here are some other suggestions on speaking the truth in love.

  1. Get to the point quickly and don’t belabor the conversation.
  2. Stick to the issue at hand; don’t introduce unrelated issues.
  3. Speak only to those who are involved in the situation.
  4. After you speak, give the person you’re talking to an opportunity to respond. Don’t verbally dump on someone and then leave.
  5. Be sensitive about when and where you share. Sharing the right thing but at the wrong time and the wrong place can be counterproductive.
  6. Be sensitive about how you share. Use a gentle tone of voice; even your body language should be calm and non-intimidating.

But we can anticipate that peace in personal relationships is possible and worth the effort. Make the effort.