Getting angry and lashing out in an argument is something we’ve all likely done before. It happens so fast sometimes that we find ourselves defending our point of view with words of anger and contention before we even have time to consider if those words are honoring to God or if they will be edifying for those who hear them.
Conflict is something we will all face, whether in person or over the internet--and likely in both spaces--but how can we effectively honor Christ in such situations when it is so easy to argue and to resort to angry words?
John Backman is his article “A Guide to Ending a Conflict without Being a Jerk” offers a few helpful suggestions for how to counter harsh words with a soft answer, as Proverbs 15:1 says.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” says the whole verse.
If you have ever tried giving a soft answer in a conflict rather than responding in kind to the harsh words that may have been directed at you, you will likely have seen how effective a gentle answer is in defusing a conflict.
However, in the heat of an argument, turning to a gentle answer is rarely our gut reaction. So, the question becomes, how can we cultivate a habit of relying on gentle answers and extending God’s grace in a conflict?
We’ve all heard the old advice to count to 10 when you are angry before blurting out a harsh response. This tip is actually quite effective. Backman notes that pausing for a few seconds and breathing calms our minds and bodies, allowing the feeling of anger to defuse and helping us to refocus on communicating with conviction but also compassion. In our fast-paced lives, we don’t often take the time to pause, breathe, and ponder, but cultivating this habit can help our communication with others, as well as better allow the Holy Spirit to work through us.
Another helpful thing to do when you find yourself in the midst of a heated argument is to search for common ground. Perhaps you think the person with whom you are disagreeing is the complete opposite of you. That person may have foundationally different views, but since we all share the common bond of humanity, there is always something with which we can relate to each other. Backman gives the example of gun rights. He doesn’t own guns and has no desire to, but instead of railing against the views of those who are in favor of gun rights, he takes the time to listen to why they feel so strongly about such a topic.
When he looks beyond the surface issue, Backman says he can see that these people have a “passion for keeping their families safe, enjoyment they’ve derived from a lifelong hobby, fear of losing freedoms. I can connect with all of that. Suddenly I have this patch of common ground with them, however small.”
One more way to help cultivate gentle answers and to communicate in a way in which our words will “be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6) is to carefully choose the words we use.
Backman notes that saying things like “That’s ridiculous!” does nothing to advance our argument, but adding phrases like “I see things differently” or “I have some questions about what you just said” let others know that we don’t think we know it all and are willing to dialogue with them and reach deeper understanding.
Cultivating these three habits will likely be helpful when conflict arises, and best of all, will allow us to develop more of the fruits of the Spirit such as gentleness, peace, and self-control.
Dr. David Hawkins, writing for Crosswalk.com also notes that patience is an important component of dealing with conflict effectively:
“[H]ealthy conflict requires our best energy, our best effort and our best attitude. Scripture offers many directives on how to engage in healthy communication, the backbone of which is often patience—something we have more of when we are at our best. "A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense." (Proverbs 19:11).
Ultimately, we can only achieve healthy communication and can only conquer unrighteous anger by God’s grace. But as the Spirit works in us to cultivate gentle answers, others will likely take note of this counterintuitive way of handling conflict and will be willing to dialogue with us more, perhaps even about the Lord.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: March 30, 2016
Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com