Answer Softly. Answer Clearly.


“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” —Seneca

This is a truth about life and relationships. But it starts with an illustration from a website.

The Internet can be a tough place. Readers and commenters hide behind keyboards and IP addresses. Safe in their home or coffee shop, some people go to great lengths to attack people and positions through the words they post online. Without the disadvantage of standing eye-to-eye with their opponent, they express disapproval, anger, or jealousy using words in comments, tweets, and blog posts they would never use face-to-face. We call them trolls and haters.

I’ve received my fair share. Not an inordinate amount (this community is among the most encouraging on the Internet), but certainly enough. It’s tough to be in the public eye nowadays without receiving some negative feedback and personal attacks.

But if you watch closely, you’ll notice I have a specific formula when addressing negative commenters on this blog or social media. I usually begin by thanking the commenter for the question or comment.

On Becoming Minimalist, it will read like this, “Thanks for the comment xxx and thanks for the opportunity to clarify my thoughts on this point.” Then, my kind response is followed by a clear answer to the charge (if it requires a response). Answer kindly. Answer clearly.

But this is not just an article about commenting on blogs. This is an important truth about life and relationships and people—because there are trolls and haters in every walk of life.

There is an old Jewish proverb that goes like this, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” I have found this to be true over and over again in my interactions online and offline.

Gentle words soften the spirit of the accuser and exposes their foolishness to others. It prepares the platform for you to present your argument effectively. Kind and generous words do not prevent you from clearly presenting your argument, they make your case stronger.

In our interaction with others, we should work hard to counter harsh statements and attitudes with kind words. In our marriages, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, and in our relationships online, turn away negativity with positivity.

When you are attacked, hold your ground and state your truth. But beginning your response with just one sentence of gentleness will soften hearts and lay a much firmer foundation on which to stand.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Sally says

    Wow, this really hit a chord with me. I try to do this but sometimes I forget or I am tired and default to sharpness.

    I like this especially “Kind and generous words do not prevent you from clearly presenting your argument, they make your case stronger” and I will keep working towards it. It would be fabulous to one day be the person who always responds kindly as well as clearly.

    • Rochelle says

      Beautiful post! I have a horrible temper that I struggle to control, and this post reminds me of why it’s important to be gentle and speak kindly in the world. I’ve found that I can get very angry with the people I love most, and your post emphasizes why it’s a good idea to stay calm and clear.

    • Alex says

      A a humble and mindful way of disarming your acerbic critics. Life’s to short to get caught up in vicious little battles!

  2. says

    This is a sweet and calming article to read first thing in the morning. Thank you for the reminder of kindness. Oh, and “a gentle answer turns away wrath” is found in the Bible, Proverbs 15:1. It’s a principle with great power, in my experience.

      • Helen K says

        Laura, Joshua and Scott – all of the old testament, and much of the old testament, were written by Jewish people (some of whom in the new testament had also become early Christians). Really good to remember how much we share in common (and that goes for aspects of other religions too). Proverbs 15 is great (not sure if it has a different name in Jewish writing?) – but so important to remember :-)

    • Nermeen says

      Same meaning in Quran : “And not alike are the good and the evil. Repel (evil) with what is best, when lo! he between whom and you enmity would be as if a warm ( close) friend ” translation of the meaning of the verse 34. Surah Fuselat, al Quran . 41:34

  3. John says

    While I believe that gentle answers should turn away wrath, I have encountered many enraged attacks on the calmness with which I respond. It seems like some people get even angrier when I don’t lower myself to the level of aggression.

    Thoughts as to why?

    • Sherri says

      Thank you Joshua for improving my life. You were part of what motivated us to sell everything and move to Central America as missionaries which was my dream since childhood. We got down to four suitcases, from a two story house! Recently at a conference were advised: “Always be kind, even when it seems pointless, even when it seems hopeless, even when the person doesn’t deserve it. That is all your creator has given you the right to do. What you cannot accomplish with kind words you will not accomplish with harsh ones.” S.K.

    • Annie says

      What they want is to provoke a response and start a fight and they will continue to try so long as they think they can succeed. This is a much milder example, but my father used to love to tease me when I was little. It was really harmless stuff but I was very sensitive then and would get so irritated and huffy. My mother had repeatedly told me that he would stop if I didn’t react since that was his goal. It finally sunk in one day and I tried ignoring him. It was tough the first few times, but he eventually gave up and never did it again. I still think of this example whenever I am faced with someone who is trying to rile me.

    • says

      Yes i have experienced this in some cases, too. There are people who get even more aggressive when spoken gently to. They are only a few, fortunalety. But they exist.
      I always adress myself to people in a friendly way. And in 99% it works really well :-)

    • stephanie says

      Just my perspective but I’m guessing that your gentle answer has embarrassed them (how they acted) and that is whey they are even harsher with you. Some folks are just looking for an argument and nothing you can say or do will help the matter. You just need to remember that a persons response is a reflection of them, not you and you should be at peace with how you acted regardless of their response.

  4. says

    I love that you always thank the person first when dealing with a negative comment.
    I’ve learned that when communicating about difficult subjects with people I know that it’s always a better experience when I use Truth and Love. It’s my favorite passage (Ephesians 4:15)—it definitely requires mindfulness because sometimes my first reaction is exactly that: a reaction, rather than a response. It takes thought to craft a response in love and kindness…I wish it occurred more on the internet!

  5. says

    What you speak of is called “grace”. When confronted, one has the option of escalating or responding with grace. I have found that my life is much more pleasant if I respond with grace. Grace offered is powerful, and grace accepted is a joy.

    • Lois Smallwood says

      Totally agree…though as previous commenters have said…doesn’t always work..but at least you keep yourself ‘right’ …graciousness is a rare quality..good on ya!:)

  6. says

    I really need to follow your advice to deal with haters using kind and gentle words. Unfortunately, my default is to yell back with equal fervour. I try to keep calm, but I always end up taking it as a personal attack.

  7. Stephen Klinger says

    There are some Ben Folds lyrics in the “Songs of Love” that pop into my mind when I’m getting frustrated or aggravated: “Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice. Fortune depends on the tone of voice.”

  8. says

    Thank you for this. Made me take a deep, relaxing breath!
    Reminds me of a few other Bible principles…
    Treat others as you would like to be treated.
    “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.” (Colossians 3:12)
    “A slave of the Lord . . . needs to be gentle toward all, . . . keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed.”—2 Timothy 2:24, 25.
    And more. What a better way to live!

  9. Lauren says

    Lovely. Simply lovely. So eloquently stated. To add to the thought… it is also good to remember to be vocal when we appreciate people and what they have to offer. Sometimes we assume people don’t need to hear it. It only helps keep the positivity flowing. Thank you.

  10. says

    That was beautifully stated, Joshua. I figure if someone is in an attacking mode, they are in a lot of pain inside. Attacking them wouldn’t help me or them. Sometimes it helps to ask genuinely if they are okay.

    • Lois Smallwood says

      So true…hurt people ,hurt people…..takes a stronger person not to retaliate sometimes…but always for the best to respond with grace( though not easy on occasions it can feel very personal)

  11. says

    “When you are attacked, hold your ground and state your truth. But beginning your response with just one sentence of gentleness will soften hearts and lay a much firmer foundation on which to stand.”

    One of the best paragraphs I’ve read in a while!

  12. jim says

    Couldn’t agree more with the “treat others as you would like to be treated”. HOWEVER, sometimes when I/you are really screwing up and have repeatedly refused to listen to good counsel, someone needs to kick my/your ass, get my/your attention and effectively communicate somethings I/you may not want to hear. But it would be in my/your best interest to learn from their wisdom, sans the pain they went thru to gain that wisdom. Sometimes “kind” is a good, swift kick in the ass – metaphorically speaking.

  13. Lel says

    This is a very timely message, Joshua. Thank you for the reminder on gentleness and kindness. God has indeed blessed you with such wisdom.

    Your family’s journey has truly inspired me to take a step not just in decluttering but to really stop, look, and listen to my heart and find out what truly matters. Someday, I hope to share it the same way you have done with your readers. May God bless you and your family more!

  14. Rach says

    Really well said. Not only is this approach good for the soul, I genuinely believe it is one of the most effective in professional situations that might be fraught with confrontation. (I speak from many years experience dealing with customer complaints on the phone and face-to-face!) Those who shout must on some level think that nobody will hear them otherwise. Showing you listen (especially in situations where others would not) is powerfully disarming. If someone believes a person is really listening to them, they have more reasons to choose their words carefully and to consider that bellowing might not be necessary.

    • Kim says

      I found your words so powerful – “Those who shout must on some level think that nobody will hear them otherwise.” What a great insight. Thank you.

  15. Flor says

    This hit home, I used to be intolerant of ignorant people, well honestly I am still a work in progress. One thing I do- is practice
    “observe and detach”

    -observe , the person, emotion and tone, then detach from all of those and I am able to handle the situation.

    Again, i am in a work in progress :) thanks for the article!

  16. Isabel Archer says

    Such wonderful advice. Please repost this regularly! It is so very easy and I think, falsely cathartic, to vent your anger or frustration on the net. I have printed this post and taped it up to the back of my closet door so I see it before I start my day. Thank you.

  17. says

    Beautiful post, Joshua.

    “In our interaction with others, we should work hard to counter harsh statements and attitudes with kind words.”

    Something I need to implement in my life. Countering with kind words can shock others because it’s not expected that harshness is responded with kindness.

  18. Kim says

    My son used to work at a dry cleaners where the owner had put a huge mirror behind the counter. The owner told me that when people were screaming at him over a problem he would just gently move out of the way of the mirror so the customer could see their reflection. The owner told me it was amazing to see their reactions as they saw some raving, angry person then realized that they were that person. He said they almost always calmed down.

    My mom taught me from an early age to “kill ’em with kindness” because it is the right thing to do, but also because it catches them off guard and usually calms them down so you can have a true discussion to resolve the issue.

    Thanks for this article and your informative, thoughtful site.

  19. Paula G says

    This post was so timely as there was some Facebook drama taking place in our family. Thank you so much for this reminder. It isn’t always easy to remember in the heat of the moment, but it is a virtue I wish to practice.

  20. Sarah says

    Oh how I love this one, Mr. Becker. This is how we can turn our world into a peaceful one, one person at a time. Beautifully written.

  21. MJ says

    You and your writings are wonderful! I cannot imagine anyone being mean to you. Such a terrible shame. Fallen world.
    We love you and your work!

  22. says

    I really love your posts. In a world with too much information I find you have to choose a few blogs to follow and ignore the rest. Glad I found yours, top of my list. Thanks for your effort. Shaun

  23. Susan Haas says

    I have to say, this was brilliantly stated. Being clear and gentle, yet firm is the best way to go in any interaction. I see more negative comments online than I would like to but always try to view them with compassion. I do love your posts! Thank you!

  24. Reiko Akashi says

    Thank you, Joshua, for this post. It is encouraging and gave me peace of mind, as I am not good at facing very negative comments, but at my work, these occasions come around everyday. I feel stressed and sometimes want to just escape. I will copy this advice to my notebook to remember. Thank you for helping our life.

  25. jayne says

    I shouted at my son last night, and I feel bad about it, I had back pain, and he was naughty, but I shouted more than I needed to, I know it was down to being in pain, and I took it out on him.
    I love this post and I am sure it will help me to respond better next time

  26. RLSCS says

    I used to work in customer service. Whenever I dealt with angry customers, I would always serve them with a smiling face and kind words. I observed over and over again how my response softened their behaviour and changed their attitude. Love is the answer!

  27. Jen says

    The part I really struggle with is “answer clearly”. My “kindly” is probably more “wimpy” and I end up not getting my point across. Any suggestions?

  28. Kim says

    Thanks for this article – I just can’t have too many reminders! Lots of good comments too.
    I have an additional suggestion as to why a calm response sometimes causes more anger. A lot of people use a calm, apparently kind response as a manipulative trick, and sometimes as a means of establishing a sort of moral superiority, and if you sense that is the case it is annoying. So it is important that you speak with genuine kindness in your heart. If you do, I think the other person usually feels and responds to it, even if they are suspicious at first.

  29. Elaine says

    1 Peter 3:15
    “Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you, but do so with gentleness and respect.”

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