May 05

Productive Confrontation Recap

In last week’s Access sermon I shared a story from Joshua 22:10-34 that relates a conflict between different Hebrew tribes. One group took a provocative action. The other group prepared to go to war. But before they started fighting, they talked and managed to resolve the conflict. In this week’s post I’ll recap the steps I shared on Sunday for productive confrontation.

Step 1: The Event
  • This is simply where the confrontation begins. Something happens that provokes a confrontation.
Step 2: Naming
  • This is about naming the event over which we’re having a confrontation.
  • - Using factual terms is important so that both sides can agree. It’s productive to say, “this happened” or even “you did this”.
  • - Avoid assuming motives or intent. For example, it’s unproductive to say, “You did this to hurt me.” Assuming motives or intent often prompts a defensive reaction that makes it harder to resolve the conflict.
  • - Avoid using value-laden terms to describe the other person or the event. It’s unproductive to say, “This was a vengeful thing you did” or “You’re a vengeful person”. Similar to assuming motives or intent, using value-laden terms often prompts a defensive reaction.
  • - Avoid bringing up past confrontations. “This is just like you!” or “This is just like that time when you…” raise the stakes of the confrontation. Now the confrontation is not just about the present event but also about past events and possibly the person’s character too. Stakes that high often prompt a defensive reaction.
  • - It is ok to name your own feelings when naming what’s happened. For example, it can be productive to say, “When you did this, I felt hurt  / betrayed / embarrassed / disrespected / etc.” It’s a little tricky to “own” your feelings without implying the other person caused them or intended to cause them, but if you can state what happened and how you felt without implying motive or intent on the part of the other person, it helps to avoid a defensive reaction.
Step 3: Exploring
  • This is about listening and sharing intent and motivation. Each side listens to and shares why they did what they did.
  • - Vulnerability and honesty in this step is risky but also has great power for resolving conflict.
  • - In the Joshua 22 story, the tribes that took the provocative action named their underlying motivation as fear. They took a provocative, attention-grabbing action, because they were afraid one day the other tribes might cut them off. Here’s the unfortunate pattern I see in the Joshua 22 story and often in our conflicts: we don’t want something to happen, we take a provocative action in response, and the provocative action almost produces the very outcome we didn’t want to happen. In the Joshua 22 story, the provocative action almost started a war, which would have resulted in the tribes getting cut-off, which was exactly what they feared.
  • - Vulnerability about our true underlying motives and intent – fear in the case of the Joshua 22 story – has the power to transform our opponent’s anger into compassion. When the tribes in Joshua 22 name their motivation as fear and share what they are afraid of, the other tribes are moved to compassion and trust, and what began as a prelude to war ended with peace and an affirmation of the bonds between all the tribes.
Step 4 – Seeing the “child of God”
  • “Seeing the child of God” is about seeing the other person in a confrontation as a person of immense value. That recognition empowers the difficult work of naming using only facts both sides can agree on and exploring the other person’s motivation and intent without assuming we know why they did what they did. “Seeing the child of God” also empowers us honestly to share our own motivations even when that means being vulnerable.


Productive confrontation is hard. Even when both sides want a confrontation to be productive, it’s hard. It’s harder still when only one side works to make it productive. I hope these tips will help, but they may not. But no matter the result of your next confrontation, know that you are a child of God, a person of immense worth. Your success or failure at a productive confrontation will not change that.

I hope you’ll join me this Sunday at Access. We’ll look at the role of friends in our conflicts and explore how they can help and harm the process of resolving them.

See you Sunday!

Rich Rindfuss
Access Pastor
First United Methodist Church Richardson

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