Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Soft Answers Turn Away Wrath: Soft Responses Get You Nowhere

I promised in my last entry to talk a bit about the biblically based concept: "A soft answer turns away wrath." - This quote, found in the book of Proverbs - though simple, is quite profound. Let's dissect it from back to front. Wrath is not just "upset" or "angry" - this is SEVERE, intense anger. The kind that makes you see double, or makes you completely crazy. Turning away means re-directing. So you are in error if you think that by giving a soft answer you can completely diffuse an out of control situation. What you do by giving a soft answer is you RE-DIRECT the intensity of the anger or emotion towards a new purpose or outcome.

Think about it. When you are experiencing intense anger, are you thinking about how you can resolve the situation in a way that is best for all concerned? I think not! You're thinking about how many ways you could kill someone and hide the bodies. You're replaying every episode of CSI to make sure you don't get caught by leaving behind any evidence. In the heat of the moment, the last thing you want to do is show love. What a soft answer does, is it demonstrates the speaker's willingness to resolve the issue rather than escalate the issue. In this way, it re-directs the attention of the angry person away from his/her feelings, back to the situation at hand; thereby facilitating the process of resolution.

What exactly is a "soft answer"? I'll tell you first what it is not. It is not a flimsy response. It is not the transference of blame, either to someone else. You've heard these before: "I'm so sorry, it wasn't me, it was Julie..." What you're really saying there is - "Be angry with her! Go fight with her!" It is not giving in to the angry person just so s/he will leave you alone. When you do this you teach him/her that you can be bullied into doing what s/he wants. It is not "sucking up" or reacting weakly. Giving a soft answer in no way implies that you are a pushover.

Rather, having the ability to give a soft answer is a demonstration of your level-headedness, and your assertiveness. Giving a soft answer is: Thinking about what is happening, what is being said or done, and pre-determining a course of action and a response based on the best desired outcome for the situation. It is then stating one's thoughts, feelings, opinions, demands or ideas in a way that is honest, open, and direct, and is not deliberately offensive or hurtful to others. It means sticking to the issue rather than taking the bait of escalating emotional intensity.

Often people ask me, "Does this mean I have to pretend like I'm not mad? Cause that's hard!" Sure it is. Let me remind you, there is nothing wrong with feeling angry. Where we go wrong is what we choose to do about it. Remember the TSA model. Think, Say, and Ask. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I'm feeling incredibly angry too - in fact, I'm so upset right now, that I may say something I'll regret..." There is nothing wrong with letting your face show your emotions, as long as somewhere in there, the other party can see that your goal is to resolve, not escalate the issue. Be aware of your body language and what it is communicating. Because in the end, no matter how "soft" your answer is, if your body language is HARD, you're headed for a fight.

So here it is. Giving a soft answer doesn't make you a softie. Remember this the next time you're faced with intense, severe anger. Give it a shot! Then drop me a line at, to let me know how it worked out. BTW, you can see my new video about my program Getting Past Your Past at Yahoo Video and on You Tube. I'll post it here with my next message.