A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger
Chapter 15 of Proverbs is a whole chapter that has verses about the tongue, mouth, prayer, speech, lips, etc. It is the how-to-use-your-tongue-wisely chapter. Since our mouths get us into more trouble than almost anything else in our lives, this would be a great chapter to camp on. It is the positive counterpart to James 2 and the tongue being a fire.
This verse gives the solution to what to do when someone is upset with you. The answer is a gentle answer. To defuse a situation, your words must have a softness and tenderness. This means the tone as well as the words themselves.
Too often people will speak their mind when they are being attacked. They will let fly with the emotions that are raging within them. This is always a mistake. When someone is angry with you, you have to defuse the situation with your words and demeanor – gentleness The natural reaction of anyone to another person’s anger is to reflect back on their anger and stir up more. As one recent study showed, emotions are contagious. You can actually pick up the emotional climate from another person.
In the case of anger, you must keep from catching another person’s mood and must re-infect the other person and people with a gentle, conciliatory, and adaptable mood.
When someone is already angry and you speak directly, forcefully, or even honestly, it usually produces more anger. Most people want to defend themselves or set someone straight in the face of the greatest emotion. This rarely, if ever, works; it only exacerbates the process. A person cannot let you win an argument when they are under the spell of anger; it only makes them more angry. The opportunity to reason will come later when tempers are calm.
Too often we only want to debate a subject at the worst time to debate it – when the topic is charged with emotion. If something is worth discussing, then it is worth finding a time when the discussion can be carried on without the emotions; and that requires that the angry person be defused. Many people are like the chess players who only thought about the move they were on instead of thinking five or more moves ahead. When dealing with an emotional topic, one has to think five or more moves ahead. Defuse the situation now. Listen to the kernel of truth in the blast. Plan a time to discuss the topic rationally. Develop a way of speaking about another viewpoint that will not re-stir the emotions. Create a positive climate of interaction – bring up the discussion in a nonchalant way as to keep it under the rational aspects of our being rather than the emotional.
* This material is copyrighted © by Gil Stieglitz who retains all rights to the material. The verses quoted are taken from the NASB Bible 1995 edition.