How You Say It

May 14, 2019

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness. Proverbs 15:1-2

In our relationships with people that explode or slowly deteriorate, it is often not so much WHAT we say, but HOW we say it. The conversations we have with others regarding boundaries very often fall into this category. The tone and manner in which we speak influences the way the other person hears.

For instance, if I need to tell my sister that she is demanding too much of my time, I can harshly and suddenly say, “You call me all day long! That has to stop!” I have guaranteed tempers will flare OR she will completely withdraw from me, feeling unwanted and unvalued. On the other hand, if I plan my conversation for a good time, I can say, “Susie, one of the joys of my life is that you are my sister. We can talk and talk and talk. However, I have so many responsibilities in life that I currently need to manage my time better. Mornings are hard getting the kids off to school, I work all day, and then must start dinner when I get home. It seems like everyone needs me, and I bet it’s true for you too. I don’t want to lose out on talk time, but I need to be responsible enough to schedule it better. I have 15 minutes every day at lunchtime that I can completely devote to our talks without interruption. I will set that aside for us every workday, and make little notes of things that come to my mind during the in-between times so we can get it all in. I hope that sounds good to you.”

There’s a big difference in those two conversations, and the outcome has a chance to be much better.

Proverbs gives us two pieces of wisdom in these conversations:

1. When someone speaks harshly and in anger to you, answer back gently and with low volume. It lowers the temperature in the room almost immediately. Returning anger for anger pours gas on the flames.

2. It is foolish to “belch out” your opinions, even if they are right. Think it through and make your wisdom as easy to receive as possible. Wise people make their words reasonable and appealing.

  • An old prayer is a good one to pray today: “Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff, and nudge me when I’ve said enough.”