the shape of leadership

Five Keys to Speaking Life

Lead through conflict without saying the wrong thing

Kent Ingle on July 8, 2019

Leadership is about relationships. Everything you do as a leader either builds people up or tears them down. It all starts with the words you choose. Words give you the power to speak life or death over others.

We’ve all made poor choices in this area at one time or another. We’ve said things we didn’t mean. We’ve let our feelings get the best of us. We’ve spoken before we really understood or fully processed the situation.

Many of us have also been on the receiving end of a verbal barrage from a supervisor or other leader. Such experiences can shatter confidence and leave lasting scars. The Book of Proverbs says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).

Sometimes we do have to say hard things as leaders. Sometimes we need to step in and confront, provide negative feedback, hold team members accountable, or resolve conflict. But the words we use during such times matter.

It is easy to run over people, speak rashly and ultimately put your own needs above the needs of those who look to you for leadership.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed to serve under several grace-filled leaders who modeled healthy leadership. They helped me grow through failure even when I felt I didn’t deserve their patience and understanding. As a result, I resolved early on in my leadership to be a builder of people.

It is possible to say difficult things without destroying people.

A true leader wants to see people grow and succeed. This is the kind of leader others want to follow. Who wants to follow a leader who tears others down?

Here are five keys to speaking life as a leader in times of conflict:

1. Consider the other person’s perspective. It’s easier to extend grace to someone if you can imagine yourself in his or her shoes. Seek understanding.

2. Don’t rush to judgment. There may be details you don’t yet know that will offer insight into the situation. Take time to listen and process what the other person has to say. It’s also a good idea to pray, asking God for wisdom (James 1:5).

3. Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Speaking life doesn’t mean only saying positive things. It’s important for leaders to be honest. The pure, simple truth — communicated from a leader who genuinely cares and wants what’s best for everyone involved — can be powerful.

4. Put some distance between the conversation and coaching. A little time to breathe, maybe a few days, will give you the opportunity to wrap your head around the situation.

5. Maintain a long-term perspective. View these situations as teaching moments rather than setbacks. This makes it easier to keep emotions in check and speak life into the individual.

It is possible to say difficult things without destroying people. If you do, you will win the loyalty of those you lead, and your team members will be more likely to return the same grace and respect to you.

Helping others grow is at the heart of what effective leaders do. As you take the time to gain insight and offer guidance, you are sure to grow, too.

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