In thinking about this Proverb over the last few weeks, I have been primarily focusing on the words soft and grievous. But tonight I was struck by the words answer and words. Just as soft and grievous are contrasted, so too are answer and words.
Often when we are faced with a situation involving strife, we feel compelled to put our "two cents" in, but we should be careful. We should ask ourselves if what we are about to say is an answer - a solution, building block, bridge, or guidance - or is our statement just words. Answers further the discussion in a positive direction, or bring a discussion to a close. Words just further inflame, or stir up, a discussion. For example, telling a child "no" quietly and firmly is an answer. Often this answer is not appreciated, but it does tend to end the controversy fairly quickly. Contrast this with explaining to a child that they can't have the desire because it is unhealthy, not safe, or just not appropriate. Taking this approach often leads to an argument between parent and child, each defending their positions, until finally one or the other erupts in anger and the situation rapidly deteriorates into a screaming fit....and then the child starts throwing one too. Certainly, there is a place for instruction, but sometimes a soft ANSWER will turn away wrath...even if the answer is grievous, like saying no. And usually grievous WORDS will stir up anger, even if they are filled with soft-sounding "dears" and "sweeties".
This proverb teaches that what we say and how we say it, are of equal importance. May God help us to judge when and how to speak in all our relationships and conversations.