Tension knots needling my back and neck, I sat very still, unprepared for the anger hitting my ear. Hands hovering over my computer, fingers poised to end the scathing rant with one touch of a button, I had a decision to make.
The peaceful silence of the phone line had been disrupted by an angry customer, one transferred inappropriately from other areas of the company for which I’m employed. Not just once or twice.
Six. Different. Times. And even worse, I would need to make another transfer, fueling the fire of his injustice.
Immediately on guard as I came under attack, defensive responses bounced around in the recesses of my mind.
After all, it really wasn’t my problem.
Or…was it? I hadn’t caused the tangled web of confusion, but could I help unravel the painful mess?
A long exhale escaped parted lips and my hands relaxed, decision made. Dodging the spray of verbal fireworks, I sat back and listened.
Maybe you’ve been there too? Faced with the unexpected wrath of an angry countenance turned your way? If so, you know it’s not a pleasant experience.
As the object of this man’s tirade, desires to protest and claim innocence in the debacle rose up inside. But would that ease the tension? Not likely.
Finally, the ammunition seemed to run dry and the line went silent once again.
“I’m very sorry sir,” I responded feebly, voice low, as not to ignite another spark. “I agree. That should not have happened, and you should not have had to go through that. Again, I’m very sorry.”
It was a humble offering, and I honestly didn’t think it would be enough.
Until I heard it.
The long, low sigh filtering through the other end of the line, signaling a possible end to the battle.
All fight drained from his voice and he replied simply, “Thank you, ma’am.” A slight pause, and a few more words came. “You can transfer me now.”
The brief, heated exchange stayed with me long after duties of the day resumed. Even now, I contemplate questions stirred by the interaction.
In conflict, what if solving the problem isn’t always as important as acknowledging the struggle on the other side?
And what if knowing someone cares means more than having the right answer?
To be clear, I’m not referring to abuse or acts of violence, but rather those unpleasant disagreements that bubble to the surface on the job or in our relationships through the journey of everyday life. The ones where it’s tempting to have the last word or prove our own point.
While there may not be an exact formula for every situation, scripture outlines principles that will bring about better resolutions when we apply them.
Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. James 1:19
To be honest, listening doesn’t always come easy for me, but I’m learning. At times, it’s necessary to give quiet consent for someone to vent frustration without jumping in too quickly to give my side of the story. In heated discussions, intentional silence may be the catalyst needed to alleviate the tension of struggle, even when it goes against the grain of everything we are feeling at the moment.
A Soft Answer
A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. Proverbs 15:1
When we fuel a fire with more of the same, flames rise with little hope of burning out. But a gentle response may be the calm, cooling rain that deflects anger, initiating a turning point toward resolution.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves. Philippians 2:3
It’s often too late to change what has already happened, but in viewing the battle from a fresh perspective, can we recognize the pain on the other side? Stepping over the line for a few moments to filter life through the lens of another person may stir compassion to reach across the aisle and ease their burden.
As I reflect on these words and see them in black and white on a computer screen, I know they are much easier to speak than to live. When the next conflict arises, will I put them into practice? I don’t know. But I want to. And I’m guessing you do too.
As we continue this journey of life, what do you say we take time to pause when challenges arise? And remember, that in the face of adversity, a slow response is often more valuable than a quick reaction.