*Post by Julie Pierce*
Several years ago, a woman we’ll call Rita came to me carrying a big bag of offenses for her friend, Sherry. Sherry was extremely angry with me, deeply disappointed by my leadership, and quite confident I was a liar. As I sat across from Rita, she demanded I explain myself. She recounted, incorrectly, the conversations I had with Sherry and wanted to know why I said those things and how I could hurt someone like that. Ouch.
I listened. I tried to pray for compassion. I sorted through the fact and fiction of what she was saying. When it finally came time for me to respond, I realized I didn’t have a whole lot to say.
I shared with her how I was truly sorry Sherry was hurting. I went on to say I would not be sharing details of my previous conversations with Sherry as they were private – and it would not be honoring of Sherry, or appropriate for me to share them, even if I felt like it would correct or complete the one-sided story she had heard. And then I told Rita I was doing my absolute best, with God’s help, to lead and love others in the middle of some very difficult circumstances. And that was all I said.
This was not the first or last time I have had this kind of conversation and had to choose with all my will to be silent; to choose not to go toe-to-toe with someone, or their friend, who is misrepresenting me or the situation. Silence is both a refining spiritual discipline and a defining leadership discipline. As a spiritual discipline, silence allows us to clear out the clutter our never-ending supply of words brings to our daily lives. As a leadership discipline, silence sets us apart from the chaos of conflicting reports of “he-said, she-said” when emotions run high.
When preparing to respond to someone, THINK through the following questions before speaking:
T: Is it true?
H: Is it honoring to the other person?
I: Is it inspiring?
N: Is it necessary?
K: Is it kind?
If your answer is “no” to any of these questions, silence might be your best response.
Now, I am not saying that you should never defend yourself. I believe healthy confrontation and a biblical approach to conflict resolution are an essential part of great leadership. However, sometimes in the name of “setting the record straight” we are actually just trying to win people to our side of the conflict- to get our friends or followers to forge an alliance and take up our offenses instead.
Sometimes the most appropriate and loving response in a difficult situation is the most disciplined as well: silence.