In this volatile political climate, many people hesitate to speak their minds for fear of offending someone, or being “unfriended”, “ghosted”, disinvited, canceled, or fired. Let’s consider if, when, and how you can speak up with confidence, even when you know your voice is not welcomed.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

Proverbs 15:1-2

What a great principle — Are you talking just to hear yourself? The fool, according to the proverb, talks just to spout noise. The wise really have something insightful to say.

When to Speak

First of all, know your audience. Consider the nature of your relationship with the person you’re addressing. The more intimate the relationship, the more important it might be for you to declare yourself. Speaking the truth in love deepens any relationship. Even when someone disagrees with you, your relational capital (time, care, etc.) with them should grant you permission to say it. Hopefully your disagreement will lead to a meaningful conversation about the issue, and you can both learn from one another.

Is Your Listener Someone Truly Wanting Dialogue?

Conversely, if you don’t have much relational capital, keep a humble posture and let your words be few. Challenged by an internet troll? Forget it! These people make bombastic claims for the sole purpose of arguing. They would never have the courage to say such things to your face. Agitation is a sport for them. There is no winning at this game, no matter how well you play.

Are you at a social gathering? The purpose of these events is to bring people together. Don’t be the one who ruins the party by arguing with the other guests, even if somebody else starts it. If the discussion is worth having, invite the other person to meet with you apart from the event. If it’s not, feel free to laugh, shake your head and walk away. Responding to a harsh word with silence speaks loudly and clearly.

Check Your Verbal Filters

Consider the subject matter. Is it fact or opinion? Is it a universal truth or simply a personal or cultural preference? A lot of people are fighting about things they know little about. Can you find some common ground in the debate that creates an opportunity for resolution? How committed are you to finding solution? How important is the struggle? Is this a topic both sides have taken the time to actually research?

Make sure you have done your homework before you engage. Even if you’re right, it is always in your best interest to be able cite facts, sources, experts, and historical precedence, should the need arise. It’s also important to weigh the risks of entering into an argument. Ask yourself, “What can be gained or lost by having this debate? Will the hearer be helped or hurt in the long run? Will I be helped or hurt? Is this the hill I am willing to die on today?”

Is there a creative way to express yourself where others don’t take offense?

Finally, consider your motivation for saying it. What do you hope to accomplish? Are you out to get a laugh, start a fight, issue a warning, create awareness, challenge another’s thinking, offer encouragement, or persuade someone to do something?

Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you discern if this is the right time, place or way to say it. If your motivations are NOT of out genuine concern, people will see it. Then it doesn’t really matter how articulate you are.

One should always THINK before they speak if they want others to think about what they said. Ask yourself, ‘Is what I am about to say…

  • True
  • Helpful
  • Instructive or Inspiring
  • Necessary or
  • Kind?

If not constructive, it’s best that you refrain from speaking. And if someone did not THINK before speaking to you, you are under no obligation to spend time replying.

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

Proverbs 16:7