We’ve been thinking about healthy communication skills in this blog space for the last several days. We’ve talked about the importance of listening and letting the other person finish talking, the clear wisdom of thinking before you speak, and “speaking the truth in love.” But good, effective, and Christian communication has even more facets to it. For today, let’s talk about avoiding loud, angry voices.
It has been said that somewhere between 60% and 90% of communication is non-verbal (depending on who you are and the circumstances you’re in). That is to say that the words that we use are only part, the minority part, of how people understand us. This non-verbal communication includes things like body language, facial expressions, gestures, and tone. Often we use the “right” words, but with the wrong tone; and then we wonder how the discussion turned into an argument and then into a shouting match. The problem was that what we were saying was “colored” (darkly) by the way were saying it.
God knew this a long time ago as He inspired the wise man, Solomon, to write, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger,” (Proverbs 15:1), and “By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone.” Proverbs 25:15.
Psychological studies have been done on what happens to communication, when the volume gets turned up. The short version is that the louder you are the less likely you are to be heard; the softer you speak (even a whisper) the more likely you are to be heard.
We’ve all been there before, right? As person 1’s voice gets louder, person 2 feels compelled to get at least as loud or louder—which compels person 1 to get louder still, and so forth until an irrational, out of control screaming match results. It doesn’t matter that you are using words, communicating what you really wanted to say isn’t happening. And I’m sure that I really don’t need to remind you that such verbal escalation to can lead to violence.
On the other hand, when a loud voice is answered with a softer voice, the loud voice tends to feel compelled to dial back his/her volume, too (nobody wants to be the only hot-head). And if a still softer voice is used in response, the overall volume and emotional intensity goes down, until finally actual words are being heard, rationality is restored, and real communication gets accomplished. “A gentle answer turns away wrath….”
Taking God’s advice on this isn’t easy. If (when) we are provoked to anger, it will take deliberate thought and a lot of self-control to not get loud. Emotions naturally provoke loudness, and loudness naturally provokes more emotion—not rational thought, listening, and “getting” what the other person is saying. So, applying this principle—especially when provoked—will take some effort. But it’s worth the effort for fewer “knock-down, drag-outs”, for fewer serious apologies that need to be made, and for real understanding.
So, get it out of your mind that louder wins, that louder is stronger or righter, or that louder guarantees that the other person will hear what you have to say. That’s all Satanic lies and the fast lane to “Dysfunction Junction”. Employ a softer voice, perhaps even a whisper at times, and prepare to be amazed at how much of what you wanted to communicate is actually received by others.