Our church has a cars ministry. The ministry fixes cars then gives or sells the cars at a low cost to needy families. There was a woman who was declined to receive a car through our normal application process. She did not like the answer "no" and wasn't going to settle for it. She either wanted a car or she wanted to be put back on the list to get in line for a future car.
After much debate with this lady, the church staff member who had been unsuccessfully trying to get her to accept the news, came to me for help. Of course, who do people typically go to when there's dirty work to do? The youth guy. Her request was simple, "Please go to the lobby and tell the woman she did not get a car, and she cannot be placed back on the list."
Being a big fan of the word, "Yes," I thought about the scenario as I made my way to the lobby. No matter what, I was going to give the woman a "Yes." I just had to figure out how to phrase it. It came as a flash of genius as the words were coming out of my mouth. It must have been a Holy Spirit-inspired moment.
I told the woman, "Yes, you can get back on the list to apply for a car. That will not be a problem." Her attack-mode demeanor softened while the poison-laden words she reserved for me evaporated. With her on my side, I followed that comment up with the caveat, "We just can't put you back on the list for one year. Those are the rules of the car program. As soon as the year is up, we'll gladly put you back on."
With a quick thank you from her, that part of the story came to a satisfying end. I was anxious for what I knew would come next. I knew it was going to be good.
I walked back to report what happened. Before I could say a word, the staff member with hopeful, but timid words asked me what I told her. I said that I told the woman she could get back on the list. After that, I didn't say a word. I just watched the atomic bombs of fury going off in her eyes. If she's going to have the youth guy do her dirty work, I have to get something out of it, right? It was better than the 4th of July. She was livid . . . until I told her the rest of the story.
That whole exchange, from being asked to talk to the woman to having a little fun with the staff member, took less than 10 minutes. The argument that ensued before I got involved had been going on for weeks. It's amazing what the power of a well-used "yes" can do.
In your ministry, diplomacy goes a very long way. Look for ways to tell people what they want to hear with integrity and then work in the caveats of truth that they would be less receptive to hear otherwise. This usually requires more thought than I had time for in this situation. Typically we should be slow to speak so we can speak with wisdom, diplomacy and words that help or heal.
Diplomacy is an art I've developed over several years of maddening situations like the one above. The prideful, rules-are-rules, proving-your-way-is-right poke in the eye stirs up anger. A diplomatic gentle answer turns away wrath. (Please pardon the scriptural paraphrase.)
By Dennis Beckner