A Gentle Answer
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Prov 15:1)
This week I had a couple meetings and an email exchange where this verse was at the forefront of my mind. These were all separate situations, yet in every case, these interactions could have ended up in a very bad place. Emotions were high, the tension was thick, and I was aware that the outcome rested squarely on my shoulders and my choices.
I've seen so many situations where a conversation gets out of control and hurtful words are said in a moment of anger--all because a leader didn't know how to (or chose not to) defuse the situation with a gentle answer. I wonder how many staff members have been fired and friendships completely severed because neither individual knew how to minimize the damage through carefully chosen words? I meet people all the time who won't even speak to a former employer because of the pain.
If you were able to reverse time and observe the conversations that preceded a broken relationship--I wonder how many times we would find that this one Bible verse was ignored.
When I'm in these situations, I try to remind myself...
- I don't have to say everything that comes into my head.
- I don't have to have the last word.
- It actually helps if I seek first to understand...rather than to be understood.
- Email is a very bad tool for resolving conflict. It almost always escalates the tension.
- Phrases like "you always" and "you never" are rarely helpful.
- Questions are almost always better than statements.
- I really don't know it all.
- The issue is probably not the issues. If I listen, I might learn the real issue.
- It doesn't matter how obvious it seems to me, I do not know their motives.
Any stories to share about when a gentle answer kept the tension in a relationship from going nuclear?