If you are slow to respond when confronted, you have the opportunity to control that devilish threat that tries to rise up in your flesh—to take offense. Proverbs 16:24 makes the point: “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”
Here is the Holy Spirit formula for how to produce a non-threatening environment for effective communication. First, listen. Respond slowly and deliberately, so you can make your response pleasant.
What are you doing? You are preserving the non-threatening environment. Those pleasant words will be sweet to the other person’s soul, the emotional part of his being which has the capacity to feel anger or hurt. When you speak pleasant words, you minister to his soul.
James 1:19 says to be slow to wrath. You have to keep anger out of the communication. Anger has only one place for expression in the life of the believer—toward the enemy of your soul, the Devil. The only appropriate anger is righteous indignation. Anger is never to be directed at people.
Ephesians 6:12 says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, rulers of darkness and spiritual wickedness in high places.” If anger becomes a part of your communication style, you are doomed, because it will immediately produce the threatening environment you are laboring to avoid.
“Well,” you might ask, “what if the person is angry? What if he is wrathful?” Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.”
First, listen. In your willingness to listen, you are saying to them, “I care about your viewpoint. Your opinions matter. You matter to me. I want to hear what you have to say.” You will see the walls begin to come down.
Then, even if the things they have said are offensive to you, if you are slow to speak and respond with pleasant words such as, “I am really sorry you feel that way. That is not in my heart. I care about your development as a part of this ministry. I want to correct whatever is wrong here.” Your pleasant words set the stage for correction.
I used to have a really short fuse. I would “pop off” quickly at someone. Someone would do something, big or small, it didn’t matter, and I would be spitting mad, standing an inch from his nose, my flesh wanting to level him.
I had to learn to look at that person in the midst of my anger and say from my heart, “Hey, man, I am really sorry. I did not mean for this to happen. Our relationship is important to me.” It is like puncturing a balloon. The pressure is gone almost immediately. Now you have the basis to communicate in a meaningful fashion.
James wrote, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Pure refers to something being true. If something is pure, it is not deceitful, manipulative, and does not shade the truth. If it is godly, peaceable and gentle, it is pure. It does not provoke wrath or produce hurt or pain.
When you communicate with someone, do it gently. If you’re a man, I do not care how macho you think you are, you must learn to be gentle. As I have already said, gentleness is one of the most manly traits in the Bible, but it has been perverted by the world and the enemy. Being peaceable, gentle and easily entreated—all of these attitudes produce a non-threatening, inoffensive environment for effective communication.
When someone wants to talk to you, be quick to listen. If the point he makes is counter to your opinion or viewpoint, be willing to yield to reason. He knows he is imperfect. He knows he is going to make mistakes. But he will not feel threatened if they know you are a person who moves mercifully in your dealings with people.
Remember, James 3:17 says true wisdom is full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality. You are going to like some people more than others. That is human nature. You are also going to interact more comfortably with some personalities than with others. But if you are going to be an effective communicator, you cannot show partiality one to another. That offends people. It puts up walls and produces a threatening environment and communication is corrupted.
You must learn to deal with angry people. We live in an angry world where people regularly lose their cool. So how are you going to deal with it? Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” These truths are so simple that most of the time we miss them. I learned this one the hard way.
In 1989, we bought the New Union. It used to be the Union Bar and Grill, where rock-music artist Prince made a film. It was a notorious bar, and we bought the place to start a downtown outreach using contemporary Christian music.
I thought the community would love it. After all, a church was replacing one of the most notorious bars in the entire Twin Cities’ area. Every night they’d have two or three police calls. It seemed like someone got shot there almost once a week. Dope deals were going down there all the time. Surely the neighborhood should have been grateful that a church had brought them the light of the Gospel and eliminated all that crime and violence.
The city councilman in charge of our area phoned me and asked, “Would you come to a community meeting and tell us a little bit about yourself and your ministry and what you are going to be contributing to the community?” He sounded really nice. I figured I would go to the community meeting and get a few pats on the back and some warm welcomes for replacing this bar with an outreach center.
I went to this community meeting and found four or five hundred people jammed into the tiny community center. Channel 5 had their television camera in the back, and the councilman was already taking full advantage of the publicity for himself. He had been speaking for about half an hour when I arrived.
To hear him tell it, we were planning to draw the indigent and homeless from all over the city into their little neighborhood. Vandalism and crime rates were going to skyrocket. This alderman had these people thoroughly stirred up because they presumed that our church came from a nicer rural area into the grimy heart of their city, causing innumerable problems by giving handouts of free food and clothing. They were ready to tar and feather me.
“No. No. No!” I said. “We are not just going to have soup lines three blocks long to draw indigents. We have a vision to rehabilitate people, and if they are interested in receiving the Word, then we are going to give them a place to live and help them. They’ll be doing community service.”
It was all very logical. We had a beautiful, well-thought-out plan. But because the people felt threatened, they could not hear anything I said.
The more I tried to defend what we were doing, the worse it got. I had people standing up and using the worst profanity imaginable, calling me every name in the book. Channel 5 was rolling. They were getting all this down for the evening news. I had been set up, big time. But a juicy story like this could not be passed up.
It got so hostile I was not too sure I would get out of the community center in one piece. Then this verse from Proverbs came to my mind: “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” So even though I did not feel we had anything to apologize for, I took the microphone and said, “Hey, I am really sorry about this. I should have thought to ask you if our presence in your community would be something you wanted. I should have had a conversation with the councilman here. I should have done these things before we ever bought that property. And please, I ask you to forgive me. I promise you this: we will never set up a soup kitchen in this location, so you do not need to feel threatened about that.”
It was not a big thing to give up, because we did not have a soup kitchen in our plan anyway. But the change in my attitude, the apology, and the concession on the soup kitchen popped their “anger balloon.”
It was one of the most remarkable experiences I have ever had. The whole climate of the meeting changed immediately, and by the time the meeting was over, they were shaking my hand, saying, “Welcome to our community. We are glad to have you here.” And everything turned out fine.
This is a wonderful example of this truth: sometimes you can diffuse another person’s anger. They can be so mad, they are ready to flatten you. But when you say, “Listen, you don’t know how sorry I am for inadvertently doing this. I want you to know it is not my heart. I want to have a good relationship with you. I want to be a blessing to you. I am sorry for this.” You can almost hear the anger go “pop.”
Try this strategy next time you deal with an angry person or group; you will be amazed at how effective it is. And you are preserving a non-threatening environment, making no room for offense to be taken.