“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
— Proverbs 15:1, NIV
How are your relationships going these days? As you evaluate them, maybe you realize you’ve hit a snag with a close friend, spouse, co-worker, or neighbor. If so, what will you do about it?
Whether you’re single or married, a child or an elderly person, solving problems in relationships is one of the most important skills you will ever learn. It not only makes for a successful family life, it also makes for a successful career, a successful education, and a successful social life. Unless we have these skills, we’ll never be truly happy.
When we have a problem with someone, we have to learn to state that problem in a gentle, positive way. A simple and positive problem statement is important because if you don’t start right, you’ll have little hope of ending right. If in a kind voice, you say something like “I feel this way when you do such-and-such,” the other person can discover how you react to certain statements and actions (regardless of what that person may have intended). Instead of responding angrily, respond in kindness—“a gentle answer turns away wrath.”
We also need to listen actively and not interrupt. Summarize what you heard, and allow the other person to rephrase things if you didn’t quite understand. Listening in this way is really just applying the Golden Rule.
Next, brainstorm with the other person a mutually agreeable solution. Offer suggestions: “Well, we could do this, or we could do that.” Don’t criticize anyone’s suggestions (for example, avoid saying, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”). Criticism freezes the brain and destroys our ability to develop creative solutions.
Once you’ve brainstormed some options, weigh the pros and cons of these potential solutions, and agree on one that is mutually acceptable. Implement it, and later evaluate its effectiveness.
Perhaps you desire reconciliation with someone who matters to you. Can you take the first step and give that person a “gentle answer” today?