Communication is perhaps the most important of all human activities. Nearly everything that we do communicates. Even our silence communicates. People evaluate us based on our communication. They make decisions about future interactions with us based on our communication. As much as we communicate, it is amazing how often we don’t communicate well. Our message falls short. Our words are misinterpreted. Their meaning is often misunderstood. As a result communication gives way to conflict. Conflict is inevitable. However, the word of God prepares us for the conflicts.
Proverbs 15:1 state, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” How we respond to conflict determines what happens next. Intense rage can be cooled by a fitting word. A gentle response stops an erupting volcano. It is both the words themselves and how those words are communicated that bring calm to the chaos of wrath.
When we respond to the anger of others with abrasive or painful words, we are adding fuel to the fire. By matching word for word and tone for tone, what starts off as a lit match turns into a forest fire. We often end up having to apologize for what was said. And even after the apology, there is still a strain on the relationship because you cannot unsay words.
It is important to respond in a way that is consistent with who we are in Christ. People often have unresolved emotions in our lives that impact their interpersonal relationships. When a person’s anger is triggered, their response is often deeper than the situation that triggered their anger. For example, when your spouse gets upset about the way you say something, it can be tied to how their parents used to speak to them. So when you told your spouse, “You need to do…” that stirred up those feelings from their childhood. It took them to a place long before the two of you got married. The argument is more about your spouse and their relationship with their parent than it is about you. You never know what you represent to people.
When seeking to have a soft answer, give people the opportunity to be heard. Validate them as an individual. Let them know what you understand them to be saying. Clarify any miscommunication on your part. Be sure to own your role in the conflict. Even if your intentions were good, acknowledge the negative impact your words or actions had on the person. When people are heard, validated, and know that you take responsibility for your role in the conflict, it helps to turn anger away.
Minister Ross' creativity, wisdom, and insight have inspired community, church and corporate audiences throughout the United States.