Better difficult conversations:

Setting the table

Better difficult conversations: Setting the table

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. – James 1:19-20

S ometimes the most substantive conversations we have are the difficult ones.  

Whether we’re talking with a child, a spouse, a colleague or discussing core life values,  we often find ourselves engaging with someone who disagrees about what is going on or what needs to be done. This also is the case for conversations about religious differences.  

Christians tend to think about such conversations by simply asking how another person’s religious viewpoint does not line up with the Bible. This is important to know – and have an awareness of – to know where the faith discussion fits.  

However, there is another way to have such discussions that can help in engagement. It is not only to learn the beliefs of another faith but why someone might be drawn to give their life to this way of viewing faith.  

I call this getting a spiritual GPS on a person – finding out with full curiosity what makes them tick and what is driving their spiritual quest.  

How does this person approach faith? 

As the conversation begins, the goal is to determine where the other person is coming from in approaching faith. Rather than being concerned with where you are in faith, focus on where your conversation partner is. Then work from there.  

How does the gospel speak to that approach? 

In pursuing answers to these questions, you can then explore how the gospel can speak into those inclinations. However, to get there, you must understand how difficult conversations work if they are going to go somewhere.

Learning the skill


Developing skill at having difficult conversations is hard because we must unlearn certain habits. We must be clear about how to change the way most of us engage when the conversation gets hard.  

This blog is about setting the table for a better difficult conversation. In later blogs, I will look at what derails and what advances such conversations. Our instinct in difficult conversations is to defend turf, to be right. But that is counterproductive. It’s not because we should not defend our views, but because that defense is harmed when we start with the conclusion. In such circumstances – and this is common in difficult conversations – we do not have a constructive conversation but simply a defense.  

You can test how you are approaching a conversation by whether you are actually making an effort to listen and understand your conversation partner or forming how you will rebut what he or she is saying. 

Here are some guidelines for giving yourself a chance to have a good conversation. 

1. Clarify the conflict

It is important to understand each other and the exact nature of the disagreement. This needs to be mutually agreed upon as an initial goal, if possible. This means being able to repeat what your conversation partner is saying in ways where they say, “Yes, you understand me and what I am saying.”

2. Articulate both viewpoints

Understanding and being able to gain understanding does not equal agreement. They are distinct. In other words, moving to a mutual understanding is not compromise nor is it leaving behind convictions. It is simply laying the groundwork for a better substantive conversation.  

Understanding means you can articulate what another is saying and even why without necessarily agreeing this is so. Because each person in the conversation takes on this responsibility to try to make sure a good conversation is taking place, each person will get their chance to articulate where they are coming from and why.  

In this phase of a conversation, there is no room for rebuttal or for changing the subject by adding another element to the conversation. (That move often can derail any progress by complicating the conversation.) Rather, the goal is to align where each person is and why. With alignment, both of you can pursue either what needs to be done to fix things or determine exactly why you disagree. This puts you in a better place to assess what is going on.  

3. Agree to assess the issue

Having a better understanding of each other puts you both in a better place to make an assessment about what is going on between you. When you can agree where the actual differences exist, you are in a better place to figure out what can come next, even if it ends in an assessment that you value different things and thus come to different conclusions. 

All of this assumes our first responsibility in difficult conversations is to give an initial priority to really listening. I usually know where I stand and why, but what I may need to learn is why someone is coming from a different place than I am. 

These are initial points about difficult conversations and how to engage in them with the hope of progress. This sets the table with a chance of getting somewhere. There are other factors, such as what we do to undercut such progress and what we can do to advance the chance for progress. Those are the topics to come.

Dr. Darrell Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He hosts The Table Podcast, leading discussions related to God, Christianity and culture.


  1. Rebecca Kataate

    Thank you

  2. Steve

    Thank you

  3. Gloriah Annie MANDEYA

    Thank you so very much for sharing. I have had and, am sure will have difficult conversations . But now with this, my approach will be different. And like you said, I will have to unlearn certain habits.
    I have had difficult conversations with my adult sons and whenever I tried to change the change the subject, they will say right away, “this is the end of this conversation”
    This last Sunday I banged the door at one of my sons when he changed his mind on something we had agreed the previous night. This was as we were preparing to go to church. I wish I had seen this post before then, my approach would have been different.
    This is a great lesson.
    I am looking forward rest of the series.

  4. folorentorium

    I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

  5. Joseph

    Dear Susan Rowan,
    Thank you for the article. It reminded me to unlearn religious expressions that are not helpful to building friendship and sharing the Gospel. In my experience reaching to others with different languages and cultures, I realise that the true love of Christ crosses every cultural barrier. In my struggle to learn new languages, it brought humility out of me and empathy for others. The humility God is putting me through moves others to embrace me and to become friends. I pray that God helps me to gain understanding of perspectives different from mine, when I listen to others in my conversations.
    Thank you.

    • Victoria Lucius

      Agreed! God is love and humanity ONE…As a founder of an International Culture Club, I listened, learned, experienced and embraced all different, foods, religions and lifestyles…Realizing all 9 religions focused first on “loving one another” Lead through the Love of God with understanding, not judgement….all be it difficult for me to do at times!…I long for the day when our faith is enough to lead us respect to and love all others period.

  6. Ron B.

    Anything that can lower the current temperature of discourse in our country is welcome!! I experience this overheated state even in my christian relationships!! Thank you!

    • Fran Goetz

      Thank you for sharing such important information. It was very helpful.

  7. Solomon Gacece

    We praise the Lord to be encouraged by the reminder that the Holy Spirit draws people to Christ.

  8. Lisa

    Thank you for sharing an important help. Lisa

    • Geretta Abeyta

      Good points to try to remember in difficult conversations.

    • Cynthia Lucke

      This is spot on. Thank you for this. I have been struggling with this issue for years and I think I am finally getting an understanding of my role in a real productive conversation.

      • Ken Benson

        This is so true. The post is a great way to discuss any topic where there may be any disagreement. Listening to another present their position gives you the advantage of knowing how to present your position. Thank you for this post and I am looking forward to follow up postings from you!

        • Dee Moore

          I have had many difficult conversations in the past. And you are right i go into defense mode instead of getting a clear understanding Now i have some tools to use!! Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Nancy Langerud

      Thank you! Looking forward to forthcoming posts!

    • Emma Yuhico

      Thank you sir. This is truly helpful explaining James 1:19-20 so practically. Appreciated this very much. Blessings!

      • Faridha Aurore

        Thank you sir.This help me in what I face!

    • Julie

      Great reminders! It is counterproductive to “defend our turf” and simply form in our minds how to rebut what someone is saying while they are talking. Listening and trying to understand where someone is coming from does not imply that one agrees with what that person is saying. Thanks. I continuously need to remember this.

  9. Eloisa Winston

    Thank You !!! This will help me to start a good conversation. It’s hard enough to start a conversation but with these guidelines it will be easier.This is what I needed to learn. Hopefully by applying this methods my conversations with my colleagues in BBF,family ,and friends will be more interesting and better.

  10. Johanna Yates

    I admit I have not had too much time to read and absorb what has been diligently put into this blog…but I did this week and have gained so much useful knowledge. I believe this information is so valuable, not only for conversation among BSF ladies but in everyday life as well. The more understanding and insight we give to our everyday conversations, the better equipped we become (as has been noted) in the more difficult conversations about God and faith. I want to discuss God and faith with others and to do it without condemning anyone is wonderful. I will be putting this into practice!!

    Thank you so much!

    • Jennifer Allong Bratt

      This could not be more timely! I had a difficult conversation with another believer just yesterday. Not on the topic of Christianity per se but the topic has the potential to affect what we believe as Christians. We ended up with our own views on the matter but it is one that has come up before and sure to come up again. Putting into practice what Dr. Darrell Bock has said will certainly result in a better conversation next time.

    • Terri Beacham

      So true, I really try to practice listening, and communicating effectively in several small groups.Yet, when the subjects are hard and people are wounded,expressing sadness or defeat.I sometimes try to fix out of genuine concern and frustration. Unfortunately, that’s not according to the Word of God. I’m so thankful for these clear communication learning tools provided and more to come.

  11. Dorcas.

    Thank you for sharing. This is a very timely message. I am currently in Nepal. This is a country where Hindu and Buddism are the common religion. I am living with a host family and God has enabled me to share with my host mum the gospel as we interacted in her kitchen. I first asked about her beliefs and tried to listen keenly and then shared mine. As days have gone by she has been coming up with questions for me about Christianity and my beliefs. I pray that God will work through me. I thank God for this opportunity. Thank you BSF.

    • Stan Bradley

      I am so pleased to hear about your work. May the Lord our God through the Holy Spirit enable you to have the just right things to say at the correct time. You are doing great. Keep sharing.

  12. Rosie Leno

    Thanks for sharing. This is very helpful and timely.

  13. Whitney Lennon

    This! Amen.

    “You can test how you are approaching a conversation by whether you are actually making an effort to listen and understand your conversation partner or forming how you will rebut what he or she is saying. “

  14. Johnson Oduwaiye

    Thanks. It reminds me of: James 1 : 19 ”let every man be swift to hear [listen], slow to speak, [slows] to wrath. 20: For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness [good relationship, friendliness, peace and understanding God wants us to have] of God.

    “To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation” Chinese proverb.

    “……However, being patient, tolerant and good listener will win you more friends, improve your relationships, and get you more useful ideas and practical tips that can help you in many ways” – Remez Sasson in The Benefits of being a Good Listener

  15. Peg

    On Grace To You blog this morning, Friday Feb 22, John MacArthur tells how we should engage people with God’s truth. I highly recommend listening to his very short message. We are called to speak God’s Word, not be politically correct and make people happy.

    John MacArthur on Courage and Confidence

    by Jeremiah Johnson Friday, February 22, 2019

    “Few things today are as valuable as carefully chosen words. In an environment where critics and opponents are looking for excuses to be offended, bold speech and clear language are increasingly rare.

    God’s people are not immune to this trend toward enforced inoffensiveness. We have all felt the familiar twinge of societal pressure to stay silent when we ought speak up, or to dull the sharp edges of truth that cuts to the quick. While we rightly long to be clear and courageous communicators of God’s Word, the reality is that we often fall short.

    We have been called to preach a gospel the world wants nothing to do with; to be messengers of a message the world rejects and hates. How do we cultivate the courage we need to faithfully proclaim the truth? How do we steel ourselves against the societal pressures to stay silent?
    Christians can’t be afraid of offending the world with the truth. But don’t mistake that as an argument for cavalier boorishness. It’s not the work of the gospel if you’re looking to pick a fight. Instead, like John said, we need to cultivate a high view of Scripture, and take our boldness from our conviction that God’s truth alone can rescue sinners and save souls. Confidence in the Word of God is the key to courageous Christianity.”

    • Annette

      I agree with much of the above. We need to pray for opportunities to share and be great listeners to the heart of the matter, as Jesus always did (e.g. with the woman at the well – John 4). The saying “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care”, has merit. A Pastor said “we’re not the Judge” (God the father is Psalm 75: 7); “we’re not the Advocate” (Jesus our High Priest advocates for us (1 John 2: 1)(the Holy Spirit is John 14: 26) – but we are the Witness (Matt 28: 16 – 20 – Great Commission). So, when the opportunity arises, we can witness (not judge them, or take responsibility for their answers) about what God has done in our lives as the Spirit leads.

      We need to “be prepared to give an answer” 1 Peter 3:15 if someone asks us. This encourages us to be grounded in the Word, like BSF. We do not need to be worried that they will ask us something we don’t know, because we can trust that the holy Spirit will give us the answer we need when we need it. Luke 12: 11 – 12; Mark13: 11; Matt 10: 19. (Also blog “Desiring God” by John Piper).

      Also we need to remember that “some sow and others reap”. John 4: 37. 1 Cor. 3: 6 – 9. That is, we can be in a conversation and someone is ready to accept Christ right away. They could have been witnessed to many times for years, and we are “reaping”. Or our conversation could be initiated and used by God to “sow” seed that later will be “reaped” at a crusade or private prayer. We don’t know, God does, our responsibility is to be faithful and love them.

    • Patrick Rutten

      When it comes to presenting the gospel, listening is essential. Just as importantly, the Bible is not a weapon to tell non-believers to turn or burn. After walking away from God, for 25 years I was hit again and again with why I needed to be saved. The “problem”…the approach was polarizing….I viewed Christians as hard liners and inflexible.

      What changed…I met a Christian, who listened and basically said, your story is just like mine. That’s when the light bulb came on!

      Listen to Ravi Zacharias on YouTube…he is the most artful apologist there is and a master at listening but NOT compromising truth. As my mentor said, “if it wasn’t for Christian’s, there would be more Christians.”

  16. Chris Chaikowsky

    This addresses a topic I have never heard addressed. It is so easy to engage in small talk, but how does one successfully engage and continue in conversations that may be difficult, but ever so important? I am truly looking forward to these articles!

    • Mark

      We have to understand that there are some conversations that we cannot have, because of how passionate we are about the subject. Politics is one of them. It is inevitable that the more passionate you are about them the less talk you going to have about them. And the more chance there’s going to be a very heated argument about them. Because you’re trying to get them to understand you’re in there trying to get you to understand and if you can’t about certain subjects, like politics, these principles will not work.

      But I come to the the side that says, you hear there point and they hear yours, and if you cannot you can come to irrational conclusion within the first 5 minutes, then you move on. It’s inevitable with certain subjects, that you’re going to end up in an argument, because one of you is going to get heated. And by that point you can’t even agree to disagree. So you give your viewpoint they give there’s, and you listen to each other. But if you can’t come to and understanding that you disagree with each other, you move on. You don’t keep trying to beat a dead horse. Even in the church, between Christians, you can always have a conversation where everything’s at peace even if you disagree. Somebody’s going to get upset.

  17. Lola Ohia

    This has taught me to be patient enough to first learn the other person’s perspective in conversation without necessarily striving to impose my own on him. It calls for self control and focus, with an arrow prayer for God’s help. I cannot wait to see and learn more from the rest of the series. Thanks.

    • Victor Pang

      Thanks Susie for sharing the blog. God bless!

    • Lilian Samuel

      Yes I have learned that patient in listening and respecting the other person’s views without compromising the truth of the Giopel of Jesus Christ with constant dependent on the Holy Spirit which calls for arrow prayer with grace and humility have helped me as I reach out to students from different ethinicity , I am thankful for the blog and I am sure it would help me to further the Kingdom of Jesus with godly wisdom shared by friends in the blog.

      • Yvette

        Thank you Susie
        That was so helpful
        A refresher course on the art of listening and thereby becoming more sensitive thus being able to rebut in an amicable manner which then becomes more acceptable to both parties and fruitful Thanks and God bless
        Yvette Pereira


    Thanks. I just wonder how we may use the non-verbal expressions during difficult conversations because often times the body language may at times conflict with our effort to create harmonious discussions.

    • Ruby

      You are so right about body language!
      It affects the conversation

  19. Peledina Musita

    Glory to God. It can never be the same again with all these information. God bless you so much. Its my desire to preach his Gospel and he knows how heart. How I long to be like David. God bless you abundantly.

  20. Samson Miti

    Thank you so much. Very informative, .much appreciated. it’s good to understand what other people believe in what they believe before accusing them.

  21. Meng Seah

    With benefit of hindsight wisdom after reading all comments,we need to refer to “what’d Jesus do/say?”-WWJD,given similar scenario.Need to return to Word of God(Logos) as life’s a matter of relationships n how the indwelt Lord’s Spirit’d enable us to see life in the will n purpose of God n to love others with His Heart(John 17:17)
    Refer Parable of the Sower(Mat 13.18-.23) on the Word sown in ‘types of farm-soil ‘ with God’s wisdom to be wise worldly,not worldly wise.
    It’s natural to be defensive,so fruit of Spirit starts with Love to keep us under wrap,ending in selfcontrol(of tongue,opinion-judging others!)lest we forget,as in some who burnt the ‘bridge of salvation after crossing it!-purely out of selfishness n not to look ‘stupid’ in personal pride over others! a sports salesman who had a heated argument with a tennis racket customer, opining n won the argument that Pete Sampras was the best tennis player worldwide,even better than Boris Becker…but lost the sale!
    As in 2Peter1:5, with ‘knowledge’ comes ’selfcontrol’ before ‘perseverance’ with the less knowledgeable, and that comes from endurance inspired by hope that the seed planted would bear fruit glorifying God,convicting n drawing others to faith in God by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by might, nor by power but by His Spirit
    (Zec4:6),i.e. with love, being accomodating and amicable still on good talking diplomatic terms-not irreconcilable n confrontational parting of ways! It’s OK to admit our ignorance if we’re unsure,’to get back to you later’ and must admit God doesn’t need us to justify or defend Him of His existence,the Holy Spirit’d do His work in the hearts,minds n conscience of the Word sown as God had set eternity in the hearts of Man (created in His image)that he might seek Him.(Ecc3:11)
    We should also be flexible as Paul ‘for sake of Gospel ‘’I’ve become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some’.(1Cor9.22.23), not compromising our own faith on God’s Truth or condoning sin…just as at Athens Paul shared on revealing to Greek
    philosophers on Christ Jesus as the ‘unknown god’.
    Hopefully, by the power of the Holy Spirit ,the nonbeliever given time, would know the Truth to set him free from bondage to doubts n untruths for death festered by Satan(John 8:32),for at the end of the day, it’s a spiritual battle for the hearts n minds for the Lord,and God
    at the Cross who had predestined He’d triumph come End Times! Amen

    • Meng Seah

      Thanks Peledina,Samson n Samuel for your sharing.
      I do agree that there could be occasions when we can forget ourselves in the ‘heat ‘ of discussion and as you said Samuel,the body language seen might betray the sincerity of a harmonious discussion to be mutually respectful n tolerant despite differing in essence.

      I suppose it’s important that we’ve the attitude of discussion as sharing to uncover God’s Truths in wisdom given us to dispel doubts n deception of idolatry,n we need to privately pray beforehand that God’d give us His Word to say n choose words with care lest we offend or be seen to be condescending in attitude towards others’
      beliefs judging them.
      Sharing God’s Truth is not to compete against each other to win an argument…Faith n Salvation are gifts from God,not earned so in humility we need to have that uppermost in mind always,lest we forget! We’re all assured as winners in Christ Jesus at the Cross n Satan is our common enemy destined to lose out big time on Judgement Day.
      No,it’s a privilege n opportunity given us that having found salvation in Christ Jesus,we’d love to share the Good News with those we so love.As we all have the same Creator,all races must be related with us with the same Heavenly Father,n with this rightful attitude towards others, we’d more readily accept one another,patiently enduring…
      glorifying our Lord n our God forever!

    • Meng Seah

      Thanks Peledina,Samson n Samuel for your sharing.
      I do agree that there could be occasions when we can forget ourselves in the ‘heat ‘ of discussion and as you said Samuel,the body language seen might betray the sincerity of a harmonious discussion to be mutually respectful n tolerant despite differing in essence.

      Sharing to uncover God’s Truth is not to compete against each other to win an argument…Faith n Salvation are gifts from God,not earned so in humility we need to have that uppermost in mind always,lest we forget! We’re all assured as winners in Christ Jesus at the Cross n Satan is our common enemy destined to lose out big time on Judgement Day.
      No,it’s a privilege n opportunity given us that having found salvation in Christ Jesus,we’d love to share the Good News with those we so love.As we all have the same Creator,all races must be related with us with the same Heavenly Father,n with this rightful attitude towards others, we’d more readily accept one another,patiently enduring…
      glorifying our Lord n our God forever!

      • Ramon Dwane

        Interesting how it all goes back to the scripture, James 1:19-20. When we seek to understand, oh what a difference it makes.
        Thank you for sharing these communication tools.

  22. Stella Were

    I totally agree, am grateful for this help. Am about to engage in a difficult conversation and this will for sure help where I have failed before by the grace of God. Than you

  23. Norman Garwood

    Very welcome tools for this world that seems to be unraveling and isolated relationally, but lonely.

  24. Tarek Midani

    I am attending a class at my church where we are discussing racial reconciliation. I thought that this article was very timely and related well. We just need to love people well, and take time to get to know them. Then, hopefully we have shown the love of Christ and that will spur them to want to know more.

    • Bibiana Njeri Nkonge

      I could not agree more. Love for other people will help us see their point of view even if we do not agree with it

    • Amy

      Well said

    • Bill

      This is the essential essence; SHOW people Christ’s love.
      Also helpful to assume the adversary lives in a seperate reality. In this week’s lesson I won’t say much, because my life is so very different from king David’s, by God’s grace. I assume same for others who do not share my opinions/ lifestyle. Good piece and many good comments.

  25. Tod

    It’s difficult to have a conversation these days. Even the greatest communicator (s) will typically say excuse me and look at their device when it beeps. It’s down hill from there..

  26. SS

    Thank you, Susie, for sharing such valuable tools to help empower us to be better disciples for Christ. Not already knowing these exact points, but through prayer and the help of the holy spirit I walked with an angry atheist as she struggled with her broken life. I just kept asking her questions and honored where she was coming from. Rather than my normal preaching to people. And, God showed up!! With Hid love so obvious fir this person. A completely different experience and understanding if how God works in people’s hearts. Thank you so very much.

    • Nettie Edwards

      NE – I find it difficult to talk to someone who have an opinion about what’s going on in our country. I do listen to their opinion, and try to value it, even if I don’t agree. But most of my opinions comes from what I have learned through God’s scriptures to handle difficult situations and after that it seems to end the discussion. It pretty well works for me.

  27. Mee Kuan

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s very helpful & clear with step by step approach.

  28. Shirly Milton

    Yes, I believe that when we listen and politely express our faith in God and His love we will be able to share our experiences better. Thank you for sharing this information.

  29. Sandy L.

    Thank you! This is valuable to know. It all boils down to taking the time to listen so we know where they are coming from – because we can never assume to know their convictions. I wish I had implemented this approach with many people earlier…excited for this series of blog posts!

    • Debbie

      I really appreciate all of the new ways BSF is sharing in how to live out our faith. Thank you. I’ll look forward to this blog.

    • Lucy J

      I too agree entirely that this approach is healthy. As a counselor for teenagers I must listen keenly to the other person and respect their conviction so as to be rational in my response. This will prevent conflict

  30. Anne Gene

    Thank you!

  31. Erma J Reid

    Thank you for sharing this blog and encouraging us to to show love to one another in our conversations. Although we are all wonderfully made by God, we are all unique and different. However, the one thing that we all have in common is we have One Savior and One Lord and in Him each of us is made righteous. What a Mighty God We Serve.

    • Phaedra Limauro

      Right on time
      Thank you

  32. Me

    Thank you for sharing. God bless you and blesses your ministry

  33. Lois Martin

    Very informative article with multiple insights.

    Thank you for the needed conversations!

    BSF is amazing!

  34. Gae V Seal

    I need samples of conversation starters and examples of appropriate responses.

  35. Milton

    Three concepts have helped me engage in effective conversations: Listen, Collaborate, and Empower. Good listening entails repeating what was said (I heard you say…). Collaboration means I respect what you said. I may not agree but I respect your view. Empowering removes me from the solution; I’m not required to fix anything, but will ask, “What will you do about the issue? This process lays the foundation for future conversations and the possibility of agreement on Biblical principles–the Gospel.

  36. Linda Vecchiarelli

    I had one of these conversations at a half-way house and after I left for Israel learned that it had opened a pathway by the grace and truth illuminating Holy Spirit into the soul of a man who had been hostile to faith. If we don’t listen, we can’t hear the hurt that is behind so many people that causes them to fear God in the wrong kinds of ways. Since I was one of those, it is perhaps easier to participate, but shutting people down because they don’t understand is also not Jesus’ way. God bless you for stirring up the comfortable.

  37. christie price

    I have discovered a number of persons now active in my life that are so angry about the difference of opinions coming alive in our country. The gulf between us seems so hard to bridge. The major difference I feel now is their anger with no tolerance for others. This leaves me silent often not wanting to anger them more BUT it also weighs heavy on my spirit that I haven’t been true to who Christ made me. Thank you for this article and discussion.


    God’s Living Word, can transcend through any kind of heart and when we listen, when we understand were someone is coming from only then will they listen to us and God can place His living word in there life to change, awaken and transform. His Living Word is called the Living Word for a reason, it is alive and can move and change lives and it does everyday. When we listen we are showing a character of God and His heart and it will draw people to His ways not yours but His Ways and that will bring real change. Thank you Dr. Bock for reminding us that it is not about us, our life, our circumstance but about Jesus and our calling and that is to bring the lost to Him so His Word can change there life and heart. I also like that when we are actively listening we are off our electrical devices!!!!

  39. Tanzie L Harris

    God ultimately is the One who brings light and understanding – so to listen with intent to understand is an excellent means of allowing God to direct the conversation; as well as to prepare the heart of the listeners. His word is a two edge sword so there is something to be understood by both hearers.

  40. Rick

    This idea of trying to understand another’s viewpoint about their beliefs, as explained by this author, is hog-wash! My experiences are that people believe-what-they-believe-where-they-come-from. Trying to understand another’s belief system only weakens your own beliefs, and could set yourself up for believing what they believe. Don’t go there. Rest on Biblical principles and the interpretations by the Holy Spirit. The authors core teaching in this blog reminds me of New Age thinking, and that is dangerous. Be solid in your core beliefs. Trying to change people, or even understanding them and why they believe the way they do, is dangerous. Share biblical truths and if they argue or wont see these truths then shake the sand off your sandals and move on … you have planted a seed. A Christian does not have a religious or belief conversation, or argument,t with a non-believer, no!, a Christ-centered believer share their faith and what Christ has done in their life, not try to understand why someone believes differently. “the goal is to determine where the other person is coming from in approaching faith” is a dangerous concept (especially for milk-fed Christians) and is not the correct approach.

    • Julie P.

      It takes a great deal of humility to truly listen to another person to understand them, and a mark of my pride when I become defensive or want to explain myself instead. Thank you for breaking down the steps to having better difficult conversations – this is very helpful!

    • Carol Hauck

      You have to be willing to listen to the other person. Once they realize you are willing to listen to them, it opens the door for them to listen to you and what you believe.

    • Mark Simpson

      Rick, I appreciate your concern for truth, but respectfully, I think you might be reading a little too much into Dr. Bock’s comments. I think he’s merely helping us with how to set the stage for a real and honest conversation. Ultimately we have to stand firm on the core doctrines of our faith — there’s no argument there — but if we end a conversation before it ever begins how can we speak God’s truth into that person’s life. At the same time, we have to always remind ourselves that we don’t change anyone’s heart. That is solely the work of the Holy Spirit as scripture makes clear. Ideally, we want people to come to our class who need to read and hear God’s Word — people from a variety of denominations for sure, but even more so the unchurched — and the unchurched will without a doubt have ideas and spiritual opinions that will challenge our patience at times.

      I’m part of an evening men’s class and I am surrounded mostly by white, middle-aged, conservative, professionals like myself — a very comfortable group, but are we really just called to be comfortable? Last year my son and his wife adopted an African-American baby. This has changed my life in ways I never saw coming, and since then I have reached out to black brothers in Christ (and to some who are non-Christians) to have discussions about race and to learn as much as a can about the black culture. It has been a wonderful experience and it has opened my eyes to things I never knew before. I’m listening carefully and those on the other side of the discussion really appreciate that someone would take time to see life through their eyes. In our BSF class we are now looking at ways to reach out into the community so that our class eventually looks like that awesome BSF class of Revelation 7.

      • Rick

        Mark, I agree that ending a conversation, in most cases, may not be the best witness. Listening is important. However, you are missing my point, and Bock said it: “the goal is to determine where the other person is coming from in approaching faith”. That is dangerous … do you see that? I too am in a BSF course and it has white, blacks, Indians, Chinese. I don’t need to adopt a black baby, or associate with another ethic group, to understand that God sees no color, gender or ethnic differences. I will not change my message for whatever person I am sharing my faith. Jesus shared his faith and beliefs across many boundaries, and His message was consistent and His words were consistent, and His love was equal. Adopting a “black baby” and then using that as a doorway, or excuse, to be compelled to reach out to black brothers in attempt to understand their faith is racist … can you see that? God wants us to be like Him: color blind.

        • Mark Simpson

          Rick, I tried to use an analogy that would hopefully help you see my point and the point of the author, but obviously I failed in that attempt. You actually walked right into the culture trap that many of us fall into, which is to say we are color blind. What you will discover when you talk to people about their culture is that they are proud of it, and they want others to recognize that while we are all the same in Christ, we still have cultural differences that distinguish us as wonderfully unique. I think the passage in Revelation 7 that I noted in my previous post says it all. It specifically mentions believers from ‘every nation, tribe, people and language’ standing before Jesus. Everyone there will be there because they put their trust in the Lamb who was slain for our sins. All by believing the one true gospel. And in that everyone WILL be the same, but a lot of us aren’t going to look like everyone else there.

          While we know that God and God alone is sovereign in our salvation, at the same time we are commanded to preach the gospel far and wide. We don’t ‘dumb down’ the message for anyone, but when we take time to know someone’s story and listen carefully just maybe they will also listen carefully to what we have for them in return — the truth.

          And finally, just to clarify, I did not in any way say that I use the adoption of a black baby as a doorway or excuse to be compelled to reach out to black brothers in an attempt to understand their faith. What I said is that having a black grandson has opened my eyes and heart to learn all about another culture — a very proud and misunderstood culture. I don’t know how that could possibly be considered racist. Those I’ve talked with and listened to are very appreciative. I am excited about BSF’s new initiative to reach out to minorities in order to achieve some much-needed diversity in our classes.

        • Virgie Coleman

          Awesome responses, the point is we are learning, we are God’s creations, whether it is a Black infant or an older Black male or female. All praises to God. I am thankful that God is opening our hearts and eyes.

          • Elyane

            Thank you Susie for sharing it. It enables me to enhance the quality of conversations with my surrounding, to be a good listener. As Christian, i think , i have to accept the others regardless of the partners’ religion, nationality, colors, social class nor ethnics. God also teach us to not hasten in judging the others as our judgments can come back to us – like what happened to David after Nathan’s report about the rich man and poor man story – Samuel 11-12. Setting table for difficult conversation justify our commitment to God of peace , God of Mercy, God of real Love and God source of JOY.

    • Joe

      I spoke to a man sitting next to me on a short plane ride. He said he was Hindu so I asked him to tell me some about his religion so I could see the difference between Hindu and Christianity. He explained something about reincarnation and how you had to continually work to achieve heaven. I told him that as Christians we just have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that God raised him from the dead and God accepts us as His. We talked about Jesus’ death in the cross and how He paid the penalty for the sins I committed. He didn’t understand how that would affect me when it was 2000 years ago. I explained that since He was God it covered all sins for all times. We talked about being grateful for what God had done. The plane landed and went our separate ways. There was no coercion or hostility, if anything we might have been called friends. I did not at all feel moved to believe what he believed, on the contrary, the conversation probably strengthened my faith.

    • Dee Tusken

      Rick, thank you for saying what I believe.

    • Ron

      The Bible is very clear. Every contact we have with another person has been ordained by God. So we should take it very serious, secondly, we know every person we come into contact with is under conviction by the Holy Spirit, John 16:8. The only person of the Holy Trinity missing up to this point is Jesus Christ who is residing in us. It is not for us to determine what a person should or should not be told, it is our mission to bring them into a meaningful conversion with Jesus Christ. Get out of the way and let the love of Jesus control your tongue and have a genuine “loving” conversion with an individual who if not for the grace of God could be any one of us. Know they have value, God loves the world, and just get to know them by being possibly the first person in a long time that has taken an interest in them. Let the Holy Spirit do His work and you will be amazed at what comes out of the conversation.
      I once had the pleasure of watching a 1st Lieutenant in the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army accept Christ on a flight from Beijing to Nanning ( about 3 1/2 hrs. ). Our conversation began with my asking ” Do you speak English”, he replied yes. During our small talk he expressed great respect for Marine Corps tattoo on my right forearm, and later asked me if I was a professor, I replied, “no I am a student”. He laughed and asked what I studied, and I told him the bible. From then on I observed as the Holy Spirit took “complete control” of both our conversations, calming my fears of prison time, opening his heart to his true condition, and when we hit Nanning, he was a Christian.
      All of this began because God led me to speak to the man with the love of Jesus Christ for him. I guess I’m trying too say we need to focus on living in humble obedience to our God as we grow in Christ, and let Christ speak to the people God brings to us. Love them enough to get to know them.

    • Kathlyne

      Very insightful and encouraging on listening without being judgemental and even how to engage. Can’t wait to share. Be blessed

    The blog reminds me of the scripture passage in JAMES. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to be come angry….” Thx for the blog.

  42. Jo Ann Hodges

    Thank you! Looking forward to the next session. In BSF conversational discussion of our questions has been great. As a GL I am aware of how important it is to stay with the Bible scripture and not add the opinion of another source. We depend on the Holy Spirit to help us listen and share in our conversations.

  43. Annie Kearney

    Susie/Dr. Bock
    This is my prayer for this year, to listen and get understanding. First, listening with clarity as the Holy Spirit leads through prayer and His Word. Second, as I communicate with a non believer or a believer. They both deserve the same respect. Thank You

  44. Doug

    The blog reminds me of 2 things. First, from 7 habits of highly effective people, seek first to understand, then to be understood. Second, we learn more with our ears open than with our mouths. We earn the opportunity to influence by first investing in the other person. Great blog!!!

  45. Lillian Johnstone

    Just finished reading the blog. Needed the reminder: LISTEN…..thank you

  46. Audrey Haley

    Thank you for sharing!

  47. Joan

    Thank you for sharing this blog and the information. I look forward to the rest of information on handling difficult conversations without being judge mental and appearing arrogant.

  48. Cora Williams

    Good refresher course on conversing. Listen, repeat, clarify issue and try to mutually find a solution or understanding. Looking forward to next blog.

  49. Moses Wanjala

    Beautiful. Accomodative yet very distinct with biblical armoury as we listen to God’s Spirit guidance will enable us

  50. Kevin Chin

    Dr. Darrell Bock and Susie,

    Thank you for sharing this with us and for reminding us that the importance is to maintain the conversation. Once the conversation shuts down, we have lost the opportunity to make any inroads, share and make an impact.

    • Beverly Swihart

      It is sad but you have to relearn the skill of really listening to others. This is something I learned when I became a teacher. I use the same approach of saying this is what I am hearing then is that what you are saying. You have to focus on the other person and keep your mind on listening not on what you want to say. It us really hard at first but I just pray for God to help me to listen and to help me say the right thing, the benefits are amazing. Thank you I can not wait to hear rest of the topics.

  51. Johnson N Kimani

    Dear Susan Rowan ED.There is no end to learning word of God.In support of Dr Darrell Bock’s conversation,I would say the initial goal is to advance the word of Gospel or word of God empowered by tenets of Christian faith,embracing the love of your neighbors as yourself.This no dought will eliminate conflicts.We are all workers of his vine yard and should strive to always to do what is good and pleasing to our Lord Jesus Christ.It is wrong to be judgemental on others.Bible also empower us to know God cannot have fellowship with those who are of the world.We therefore must tread carefully and support any conversation by authentic words of Bible.We first and foremost have to trust in our Lord JC to enhance our relationship with Trinity.To God be glory for ever.

  52. Glenda

    Difficult conversations can often yield positive results. Being a good listener while at the same time silently asking the Holy Spirit to take charge often works wonders. He calms the restless and sometimes angry spirit and pauses the relentless mind chatter at that critical time, thereby enabling good listening to the other person’s view point. Its difficult to practise at that very moment but lets face it ……we are faced with awkward and difficult conversations all the time. The important though difficult thing is to remember to hand over to the Holy Spirit until it then becomes second nature to do so. Yes, He does help by putting the right words into our mouths, if only we listen to His soft voice within us, so that difficult conversations and situations may often be diffused. The thing is: the more you seek Him, the more you surrender situations to the Holy Spirit, the more you will receive from Him at that moment of need, the better will be one’s listening patience, the greater the chance of resolution to a situation.

    • Michael Phillips

      The Holy Spirit will work if you just listen to the gentle voice. Thank you for your comment on the Holy Spirit. Please pray for me that I would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. God’s Blessings on you.

      • Glenda

        Thank you Michael, I have you in my prayers. I didn’t realise the power of our wonderful Holy Spirit before until I developed a deeper relationship with Jesus through trials in my life, and got more and more in tune with surrendering to our Lord and asking the Holy Spirit to take control. God Bless you too, Michael.

  53. Erika

    Very valuable and looking forward to the rest. My natural instinct is to defend…. and it leads to conflict not communication. When someone repeats your point of view, (and vice versa), one creates a feeling of truly being understood, and even if the other person does not agree, the groundwork for effective communication is laid. It stops us talking in circles, and allows us to clarify the difference in opinion/believe.
    People are more open to engage in talking when they feel understood. Thank-you dr Block

  54. Eve

    Thank you

  55. Vincent Soon

    I believe there is no easy way or rules to follow for this,
    as humanity itself is so different in thinking, doing things,
    one’s emotion, expression etc. I like patience, listening
    and slow to speak, thus avoiding frustration even in an
    ordinary conversation when both or everybody is
    talking n nobody is really listening. Better still, I pray
    in a difficult situation before saying anything as I listen,
    so that the Holy Spirit will guide my thoughts n give
    me His wisdom to explain, or correct with gentleness
    n respect, so that things will remain calm instead of anger
    n more importantly allow conversation to carry on
    instead of killing it. Hope this helps.

    • Melva Walser

      As a retired school psych/counselor these are similar to the skills I was taught in my courses for counseling. I find them to be very useful as you acknowledge and validate the other person and their ideas and beliefs, while still being able to share truth where and when it is needed. Thank you for your concise outline and insights. Refresher courses are always valuable.

  56. Jane

    Difficult conversations is very real in most aspects of human relations. Always ask…what is the meaning behind this conversation…

  57. Maelynn Robinson

    Thank you.

    • mei-ling leung

      Thank you for sharing such good knowledge.

      • Anne Njeru

        Thank you for reminding us about communication. waiting for the next tips

  58. Grace Banya

    Thank you for sharing the skills of handling difficult conversations. Clarifying the conflict and assessing each view point takes a lot of patience as well listening skills, both gifts are Holy Spirit inspired. This has helped me especially in dealing with difficult personalities at my work place. I deal with a controversial subject of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment! Also am praying for a friend in a difficult marriage, whose communication with her husband is challenged. This approach will be helpful

  59. David Smith

    There are things that my bible speaks to me that others don’t seem to see. This will help me to not be afraid to share this information in fear I will be ridiculed.

  60. Nduta Kweheria

    Good lessons; especially that if you’re thinking of a rebuttal, then you’re not really listening or having a conversation.

  61. Cheryl

    Unfortunately, everyone in the photo is light-skinned and so is the author. Aren’t we missing some viewpoints?

  62. Joe

    This is great. I’m going to spend a week or so with an older brother who says he believes in God but refuses to have any kind of association with a church. I don’t think he really understands who Jesus is.

    • John

      Joe, I was where your brother is 19 years ago, then God called me to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. James 2:19 opened my eyes to my false theology.

  63. Sheli Konecny

    I’m sure there’s some good stuff in here, but it was so very high level and theoretical that it’s kind of ‘buzzword bingo.’ I’m not sure what it looks like in real life to “understand each other and the exact nature of the disagreement” or to “pursue either what needs to be done to fix things or determine exactly why you disagree.” It would help to have some examples, and how this lines up with the Bible. (Paul had some pretty hard conversations!) Maybe that will come in future blogs.

    • Judy in Salem

      Sheli. I believe I understand what You express is frustration of theory rather than example in this blog.

      I believe that what he’s suggesting is that we just listen, restate and hope that the one who disagrees with us will do the same. At some point we may be able to address our differences biblically and not be dissed. By having a civil discussion without pressure to conform or change, we may be able to continue the conversation again and perhaps make inroads to someone’s hard heart. Does this sound close to what he’s suggesting?

    • Dean Loftis

      I’m with you on this. My next door neighbor and I have totally different views. I have tried on several occasions to have a conversation with her, but she turns it in to controversy each time. I have decided to do like Paul and shake to dust off my feet and walk away.

  64. Joni Jacobson

    I love Carol Carters comment! BSF is a Bible Study! What a gift!
    Let the Holy Spirit guide our conversations and let Him work
    the miracles! Let us love unconditionally our Bible Study
    Sisters! “A sweet fragrance” Amen Shalom, joni

  65. Connie Offord

    Carol’s comment on not reading or bringing in anything outside of the Bible was troublesome. I’m relatively new to BSF but hope that we as Christians can help each other survive this often difficult journey. Looking forward to the blog!

    • Debbie Wells

      Connie, that has always been the practice of BSF. We stick to Scripture and what God says – and we share what the HS is speaking to our hearts. Not what the outside reading of commentary says, not what a pastor once preached, or a book someone read says. The reason for this is that all are welcome and different churches are represented. Some are not Bible-believing Christian. Our group leaders are not there to teach us but to facilitate discussion. If outside the Bible stuff is brought in then it is incumbent upon him/her to steer the conversation back to what God is saying or wanting us to see. Already, since we don’t discuss each question and the conversations are somewhat more lax, we can see people go off on tangents. With only a certain amount of time allotted for discussion, we need to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.

    • Kim Courson

      Connie Offord, can I help clarify what Carol said? I’ve been a BSF leader for over 10 years. When we are working on our lessons, we are asked to use only our Bibles as a reference. We want to learn what God has to say to us through His Word. No second-hand information. Then, as we share in discussion, we are asked to still focus only on the Bible. Many people get distracted, confused or misled by outside references (other books, movies, music, pastors). Some members also get competitive and try to look better than others by using commentaries (a no-no too until after lecture). So, we ask everyone – even leaders – to stick to the Bible until after the lecture. Hope this helps!

  66. Harun Samuel

    Good article and very helpful. Almost always we tend to stick to our own beliefs and point of views when having difficult conversation, specially when we do not agree with the conversation partner’s viewpoint. We listen, but at the back of our minds we disagree as we listen, without necessarily trying to understand. This article is a good reminder to genuinely be a good listener. Afterall, God has given 1 mouth and 2 ears for a reason!

  67. Dr Frank Lekey

    Thanks for the great lesson. As Christians, we should also refrain from being ‘spiritually arrogant’ stay blessed!

    • Donna Howey

      I liked this article. It is thought provoking. Not necessarily a “new” concept to “listen” but and excellent reminder. I also appreciate the comment about being and “arrogant Christian”. I truly believe there is no greater turn off to non believers. There is no arrogance in our Lord and Savior.

  68. Marcy Faber

    Thank you for sharing this blog! I’m looking forward to the subsequent entries.

  69. Joyce

    “Our first responsibility in difficult conversations is to give an initial priority to really listening.” Great beginning. I also like Melody’s comment. I will keep those 2 points in mind and look forward to part 2 of this important topic. I enjoy meeting new people and getting to know them, looking for common ground.

  70. Cami

    “Understanding and being able to gain understanding does not equal agreement… Understanding means you can articulate what another is saying and even why without necessarily agreeing this is so.” This is helpful as this is where my spouse and I often get stuck – I understand his side and why but I don’t agree, he then feels like I don’t understand because I don’t agree. How do we move forward when that happens?

  71. Carol Carter

    We are not supposed to bring in outside thoughts from our churches or read books. I think you should stick to the rules.
    This is a Bible Study.

    • Jack Hallett

      We are sharing here about techniques for gaining and encouraging understanding in our daily interactions, as well as in Group Sharing & discussion of our lesson material. These techniques can be applied everywhere there is an opportunity for dialogue.

      Please do not stop reading books, nor seeking to understand your church’s teachings in light of your personal experience of God’s Message.

      You are correct that in our Group sharing we do not appeal to external authority, whether Dogma or lay interpretation/exposition. Our authority is the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we work to make God’s Word a growing part of who we are as believers.

  72. Timothy Lindstrom

    Listening for the Holy Spirit and actually agreeing to do His commands! I have had a few times where the Holy Spirit spoke. One was a motorcycle ride and descending into Salt Lake City. I had been riding for 24 hours, The engine was rattling due to hot oil and the fuel or lack of oxygen had the engine rattling!

    I called on the Lord Jesus Christ… praying… “Now what! Echo of a rattling engine came off the cars passing me. Holy Spirit says “Next Exit.”… I had just past an exit.. “That one?” No answer…. So I exited at the next exit… and did a triple take… There is only 1 BMW motorcycle dealership in the whole state of Utah… there it was.. BMW/ Triumph Dealership in Sandy, Utah… I had to wait for 2 hours for the place to open.. Told them the problem and they said the estimate fee was the shop hour fee.. $105. I nodded. BMW mechanic came in.. came out to the motorcycle and started the engine…

    Then he took it for a 20 minute ride… Came back.. smiling. “Engine is fine… You need a clutch.. we can install that for you?” I smiled.. thanked him… Then he said, “We are waiving the estimate fee!” Back on the I-15 heading south to Apple Valley California.. I realized The GOD wanted me off the machine for 3 hours, wanted me to talk to these service people about whom I serve. Rode from Minneapolis, MN to Apple Valley, California… 39 hours total.. praising GOD

    • Marcy Faber

      Thank you for sharing this beautiful testimony!!!

      • Ann

        Yes, that was a nice testimony of faith and obedience.

    • Charles Tan

      Hi Dr Darrell, thank your for your blog. I was thinking about starting a regularly “conversational time” each week with my 3 below 30’s children. I am hoping to engage them on a wide spectrum of topics including their relationship with God, with the working world and with fellow believers. I believe my children will come with differing convictions in these areas. I believe these are also hard topic to talk about especially they are at different seasons of their life. What I am learning from your first blog is that: 1. Approach the “converstional time” with a positive mindset i.e. have a time of exchange view convictions. 2. To prepare to listen more than talk. 3. Agree to disagree and allow each other to express their conviction freely without being defensive. 4. To avoid correcting their perception rightly or wrongly, 5. Aviod imposing your convection that is likely to lead to defensive responsive. Creating a “safe place” at this initial stage for a “conversational time” will certaintly help to encourage subsequent sessions with my children. Thank you again and I am looking forward to your upcoming blogs.

    • Karen

      Rejoicing with you, Timothy!

  73. Duncan

    Interesting. I would find it more compelling if it was embedded with supporting scripture. I feel uncomfortable proposing approaches not based on scripture.
    Can this please be done in future blog posts?
    Also consistency with Matthew 18 should be clarified please

    • Dave R

      “our first responsibility in difficult conversations is to give an initial priority to really listening.”
      The above was my only take away from the blog. F

    • Jack Hallett

      This lesson taken to heart can help us to fulfill Matthew 18.

    • Erika

      Proverbs 18::2 says “Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions”. I believe this is applicable to this topic. When we gain understanding (of the other person’s opinion) , we can have an effective discussion even when we hold a different opinion.

  74. Sarah Abi Go'ar

    This is very helpful to me because I have had to be on the defense a couple of times and that gets me stuck and unable to get my points expressed as I desire.

  75. Anneke van de Loo

    Indeed a good way to start. Often a current issue can be a start: ” what do you think of the proposed abortion law change ?”
    I would come to it from the sanctity of life, the other perhaps the ‘right’ of the mother.
    I will try it out soon.

  76. Becky Zsoka

    This comes at the perfect time. My teenage granddaughter has recently announced she doesn’t believe in the Bible anymore. We are going on an eight day trip together, and we already agreed to talk about our beliefs to find common ground. I will be listening, and asking her to listen to me. A good start in a possible long, and I hope, fruitful process.


    When having a difficult conversation I believe you say something positive to lift the person up and give a peace of mind.

  78. Sherri

    Looking forward to “the rest of the story “
    Thank you!

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