Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Being nice isn’t enough

Sometimes I read Proverbs, and they don’t sound right. Like the writer took two completely unrelated sentences and joined them together with a comma and coordinating conjunction and expected people to get the point. But as a grammar fiend, it irks me because compound sentences are supposed to be composed of two closely related sentences. And many times verses out of Proverbs feel like they’ve been mashed together.

But something occurred to me this morning. God knows grammar rules. So if a verse out of Proverbs sounds mashed together and unrelated, I’m not reading it right. Maybe that sounds like common sense to you, but it was something of a revelation to me.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:21.

The wise are known for their understanding,
    and pleasant words are persuasive.

See what I mean by two sentences that don’t really fit? If I had been writing this sentence, it would sound something like this: “The wise are known for their understanding, and people ask their advice.” Or something like that. Because being known for understanding and persuading with pleasant words don’t sound related at all.

Or do they?

I was having a conversation with a friend last night in regards to someone she knows who is a very persuasive person … in a mean way. She’s apparently one of those types who can launch into a conversation with a particular type of assertive, engineered cruelty designed to get her exactly what she wants. And she’s good at it. She can browbeat anyone within an inch of their lives until they give in and give her what she’s asking for.

Talent? Maybe. Because I couldn’t do that. I make myself sick when I have to confront people at work about doing something for me that they’re supposed to do anyway. I can’t imagine calling someone up and screaming at them until they break.

But when I read this verse today, the part about pleasant words being persuasive caught my attention. Pleasant words are nice, sure, but persuasive? Most of the time when I need something and try to be pleasant about it, I don’t end up persuading anyone.

But here’s where the very related first sentence in that compound construction above comes into play.

Wisdom. Understanding.

Pleasant words by themselves aren’t enough. Pleasant words wielded by someone with understanding? Now that’s a dangerous combination.

Think about it.

If you have wisdom, if you can understand someone, you can communicate with them on every level. Body language. Vocal tone. Understanding means you “get people.” And if you get people, you know how to talk to them. You don’t have to scream. You don’t have to insult or browbeat or attack.

Now I’m not talking about manipulation. I’m talking about communicating. So many times in our world, we don’t communicate with each other. We form preconceived notions about other people so that when they come and ask us for something, we write them off or we dismiss them because we think we know what they want already. Maybe you do. But maybe you don’t.

In the corporate culture where I work, it’s essential to get along with people, but it’s also essential to get information from people. If people around me don’t do their jobs, if they don’t get me the information I need, I can’t do my work. I suspect that many of you who are reading this are in the same position. Well, how do you get what you need from other people who’ve already made up their minds about you?

Get to know them. Understand them. Find out what’s important to them, what matters to them, what drives them. And when you understand that, you can communicate with them on a different level. You can explain what you need, why you need it, why it matters to you, and why it should matter to them.

That’s not manipulation. That’s communication. That’s understanding the people you’re working with. That’s giving the people you work with a window into who you are. And when you can understand people on that level, you don’t have to resort to screaming and threats. You can be pleasant.

Wisdom and pleasant words are powerful tools. They are persuasive, yes, but implementing them at the same time will make a huge difference in your work environment. Because the wiser you become and the more pleasant you become, the more people will like you. And the more you’ll have a chance to help make a difference in their lives.

And that’s more important than getting your way any day. But if you use wisdom and pleasantness together, you might just get both.

Apricot buds

Pleasant words are persuasive

When you know something is right and you know others need to change their thinking about a situation or a circumstance, how do you convince them? There are a couple of ways to do it. You can nag, but personally I don’t find that avenue useful at all, since nagging spurs me to ignore whoever is talking. You can lecture. You can hit people over the head with your points, metaphorically of course. But I haven’t seen that any of those options really work.

If the goal is to convince someone to change their mind, you can’t change their mind for them; you have to convince them that it’s worth doing and then step back and let them make the choice.

Apricot buds

Apricot buds - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:21.

The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive.

I had to write a number of persuasive papers and speeches all throughout my school years, and while I didn’t really enjoy doing them, I know I learned a lot about persuading people. The one speech that stands out in my memory is a persuasive speech I gave in a college class about why our university needed to switch food service providers.

I gave a lot of good points, and I listed all the facts. And I put up lots of pictures of food. Like pizza. And hamburgers. By the end of the speech, the whole class was ready to agree with me just because they were so hungry they wanted to go eat lunch!

So I contrast that speech with the caucus I attended for the last presidential race. I wrote a funny, stupid blog post about it on a funny, stupid blog I started years and years ago and haven’t had time to update. But it was mainly an experience where a lot of old people gathered and lectured on the merits of their respective candidates, some with fervor verging on religious. I hadn’t felt so harangued since the last time I was in a Baptist church, and instead of being persuaded to vote for any of them, I was put off entirely. I still voted, but I actually ended up voting for the representative who was the most professional and didn’t scream at us.

This verse in Proverbs says that pleasant words are persuasive. It sort of echoes Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer deflects anger.” There’s something about being pleasant that encourages people to talk to you, to listen to you. Maybe it’s a lack of pleasant people around, but if you can maintain a pleasant tone and attitude you’re far more likely to have a good conversation with someone, no matter if you’re trying to convince them of something or not.

So can you be pleasant and still persuade people? I think so.

The difference is your perspective. Because unpleasant people try to change the way other people think by beating them to death with their words, but pleasant people understand how other people think. If you want to convince someone to change their mind, you have to let them make the choice. Otherwise, they aren’t changing their mind; they’re just trying to get you off their back.

And let’s face it: getting in people’s faces about any topic isn’t attractive. Yelling and shouting and being offensive about any topic doesn’t make me want to agree with you; it makes me want to get away from you.

Now, are there circumstances where certain levels of righteous indignation is necessary? I think so. There are some issues where passionate speech is needed, but speech can still be passionate without being unpleasant.

Pleasant words are attractive. Pleasant people are attractive. Pleasant people are refreshing to be around and are uplifting on bad days. Pleasant people are just fun. They’re the people you go to when you’re down or when you’re discouraged about something or when you’re confused and need advice. You don’t go running to some obnoxious Bible thumper when you need direction, do you? If you do, that’s fine, but generally that’s not my preferred course of action. I run to the people I like to talk to anyway.

It doesn’t matter what topic you’re discussing. Just be nice about it and remember that it’s not your job to change other peoples’ hearts or minds. That’s something God does. You just be pleasant and use pleasant words, because in our selfish, idolatrous world (and even our mean, unfriendly Church) pleasant words are persuasive enough.