Some situations are highly charged. Some people are difficult to have conversations with. Fortunately, good communication doesn’t have to be a two-way street. You can actually engage in good and even highly skilled, highly effective communication with a person who is not as effective as you are. The following are some specific strategies for doing so.


When others move to silence or violence, notice the condition of the conversation (vs the content), then step out and Make It Safe. When safety is restored, go back to the issue (content) at hand to continue the dialogue.

Safety in conversations consist of two components, mutual respect and mutual purpose. Mutual respect is the feeling that the other person acknowledges my value as a human being and is treating me in a manner consistent with that value. Mutual purpose has to do with the feeling that the other person cares about my goals in the conversation as well as their own. I can trust their motives not to be malicious or completely self-focused.


Can you respect people you don’t respect? You can actually, thanks to the semantic range of meaning respect has. You see, in the English language words carry more than one meaning. Take the word “trunk” for example. Am I talking about a tree trunk, elephant trunk, car trunk, swimming trunks, steamer trunk – it all depends on the context, though they are all trunks. Respect is like this.

In English, respect carries two different meanings. The first has to do with quality traits that you wish to emulate, as in respecting a person’s character. The second has to do with how you treat something, as in respecting a responsibility or handling something of value. When it comes to people, we recognize that all people are created in the image of God. People have an inherent value, given to them by their creator. God so values people that He came in the flesh, suffered and died to redeem them.

In light of the great value God places on people, he requires that we treat them in a way consistent with that value — to love them, even our enemies. He calls us to respect them (speak and act towards them in a way consistent with their value) even if we don’t respect them (wish to emulate their character).

Mutual Purpose

Do others believe I care about their goals in the conversation? Do they trust my motives? When mutual purpose is threatened in a conversation, people slip into a defensive posture of silence or violence. Recognizing that shift in the condition of the conversation gives you the opportunity to reemphasize the mutual purpose you both want.

  • What do I want for me?
  • What do I want for others?
  • What do I want for the relationship?

Tell the Rest of the Story

When you feel yourself sliding out of dialogue into silence or violence ask yourself…

  • Am I either pretending not to or stubbornly choosing not to notice my role in the problem?
  • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent human being do what this person has?
  • What’s most important to me? What would I do right now if I really wanted what’s most important to me?

Apologize, Contrast, Create Mutual Purpose

Apologize – Get humble and emphatically own your failures in the situation.

Contrast – Use don’t/do statements. When you need to address another’s expressed concern that you don’t respect them and/or clarify that your intentions are not malicious, use the first part of the formula. Follow it up by confirming your respect and clarifying your real purpose (the second part of the formula). It looks like this:

  • I don’t want to  ___.
  • I do want to  ___.

Create Mutual Purpose (C.R.I.B.)

  • Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose – Make a unilateral public commitment to stay in the conversation until you come up with a “No Losers” solution that serves everyone.
  • Recognize the Purpose Behind the Strategy – Ask people why they want what they are pushing for. Separate what they’re demanding from the purpose it serves.
  • Invent a Mutual Purpose – If after clarifying each person’s purposes you are still at odds, see if you can invent a higher or longer-term purpose that is more motivating than the ones that keep you in conflict.
  • Brainstorm New Strategies – With a clear mutual purpose, you can join forces in searching for a solution that serves everyone.


  • Share Your Facts – Start with the least controversial, most persuasive, elements from your Path to Action
  • Tell Your Story – Explain what you’re beginning to conclude
  • Ask for Others’ Paths – Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.
  • Talk Tentatively – State your story as a story – don’t disguise it as a fact.
  • Encourage Testing – Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.


  • Ask – Start by simply expressing interest in the other’s views.
  • Mirror – Increase safety by respectfully acknowledging the emotions people appear to be feeling.
  • Paraphrase – As others begin to share part of their story, restate what you’ve heard to show not just that you understand but also that it’s safe for them to share what they’re thinking.
  • Prime – If others continue to hold back, prime. Take your best guess at what they may be thinking and feeling.


As you begin to share your views:

  • Agree – Communicate agreement on the points where you and other person are in agreement.
  • Build – If others leave something out, agree where you share views, then build. “Yes, I agree… and…”
  • Compare – When you do differ significantly, don’t suggest that others are wrong. Compare the two views.


Effective interpersonal communication is key in ministry, leadership, and any relationship involving other human beings. It takes intentional effort to be good at it, but it’s worth it. It requires courage to face your wounds and find healing so they don’t continue to hook you in the present. Doing so means reaping a plentiful harvest of benefits in your life, which far outweighs the investment.

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