Three Ways to Man Up for Tough Conversations


Boys need to know how to address the issues that matter most in life. Tom Harper explores three areas of preparation our sons need for a tough-talking world.

Every young man’s journey into manhood is marked by his ability to have “real,” often challenging conversations. Men that avoid hard discussions aren’t living up to their full potential and miss out on the blessings that come after tackling the tough stuff.

Boys need to know how to address the issues that matter most in life. If they don’t, we fathers will have fallen down on the job, and the world will get another generation of weak-kneed males.

Let’s explore three areas of preparation our sons need for a tough-talking world.

1. Spiritual– God never wastes an opportunity to refine us. He even uses our friends to accomplish this: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).

The first way we can prepare for contentious conversations is to look at them through a spiritual lens. God promises they will always be for our good (see Romans 8:28).

Questions like these are good discussion points between fathers and sons:

  • How might God want to refine me, and what might he want to teach me through hard discussions?
  • What does his Word say about difficult situations? (Hint: flip through Proverbs for powerful advice.)
  • How did Jesus have tough conversations? (He sure didn’t shy from them. Turn to the gospels to see how he handled his critics and even his own disciples.)

2. Emotional– The next level of preparation is to understand and expect stress and fear. Often our emotions get the best of us before we can rein them in, but when they lose the element of surprise, we gain power over them. So talk about them now before they strike!

I’ve found immense value in analyzing my vulnerabilities. When I expect certain emotions, I don’t have to fall prey to them the next time they spring on me. God has gotten me through hard situations before, and he’ll do it again, no matter how I feel in the midst of them.

A couple questions can help prepare us for these emotional struggles:

  • Where am I emotionally vulnerable? (Do I get down, fearful, stressed, or angry?)
  • What does the Bible say about my weakness? (Look in Psalms for great encouragement from David, who faced extremely difficult situations, and yet received strength and comfort from the Lord.)

If you’re like me, when I get past a difficulty with someone, a sense of relief washes over me. “I made it,” I tell myself. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought.”

A young man doesn’t have to fear conflict when he knows it’s survivable.

The mature man recognizes and embraces his emotions; but he also puts them aside as he focuses on the discussion at hand. He envisions what reconciliation will be like after the conversation is over.

3. Tactical – If we know a tenuous exchange is coming, we can prepare our approach.

The first thing to ask is, “How has this kind of conversation gone before?” Knowing where the potholes are can save a lot of headaches.

I usually script out the beginning of an upcoming conversation if I know it’ll be unpleasant. Knowing what I’m going to say gives me the confidence to begin purposefully and get to my point.

If they’re the one to start the fireworks, it’s up to us to stand up and engage. Passivity kills manhood! It is never a path to reconciliation. Giving up too soon in a vigorous discussion might lull the other person into leaving you alone, but inevitably you’ll have to deal with the issue again.

If you already noticed the acronym spelled by the three areas listed above, you get a fist-bump. We prepare for tough convos by getting SET for them: spiritually, emotionally and tactically.

With all this talk of conflict and tension, it’s good to know there’s joy on the other side:

 “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word!” (Prov. 15:23.)


By Tom Harper

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