Sometimes the best thing to say is…NOTHING!

There have been times when I can ‘see’ the words as they come out of my mouth and I try desperately to snag them and put them back. Why? Because no sooner have I uttered them than I know I shouldn’t have. Try as I might, I’ve never successfully caught even one of those words. Once they’re out…they can’t be taken back. While I can’t speak for you on this topic, I am confident in saying that I’m not alone in this experience.

As someone who believes that our brand is our most valuable asset, I coach and speak and mentor people on the importance of saying the right things in the right way at the right time. There are countless books, articles and experts whose intention is to help us use the exact right wording for our marketing message,  our ‘elevator pitch’ (one of the  many phrases used which make me cringe – but more on that later :)), our sales efforts – for all of our communications. Many of these resources are invaluable and I enthusiastically recommend them, while others aren’t worth the effort it has taken to mention them here.

So, it appears that there is no shortage of guidance and wisdom to train us and teach us what to say. Sometimes, however, there is a better way. That better way is to say….nothing! Really. Silence. This is a powerful communication tool which I strive to incorporate more and more into my life – both professionally and personally. (Yes to answer your question…you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!)

This is one of those bits of wisdom which are often easy to say and much more difficult to do. As with anything, no matter how difficult, new behavior takes commitment and practice…and some sound principles to follow.

Here are three questions to ask yourself – before you speak – that will greatly reduce the likelihood that you’ll need to snag any of those words floating out of your mouth.

Does it need to be said?   Take the time to understand if the statement, comment or question you’re about to utter is really necessary. Will it add value to the situation or will it be redundant, irrelevant, inappropriate, hurtful or self-serving?

Does it need to be said right now?   Often there are things which might need to be said…but not at that particular time. By example, if an employee or colleague misspeaks or behaves inappropriately in a meeting – it needs to be addressed. However, it may be best to make your point later in a one-on-one situation which eliminates any chance of embarrassment or awkwardness.

Does it need to be said by me?  There are countless times when I know an answer, have an opinion or believe that a point really should be made. What I need to focus on is whether or not it’s something best communicated by me. If I’m in a setting with an acknowledged expert, by example, it is likely very wise for me to hold my comments and thoughts in deference to that person. Likewise, it’s typically advisable to allow parents to address their child’s behavior vs. me taking on that responsibility.

Using these three questions has significantly increased the effectiveness of my communication. Importantly, they have helped to minimize the number of times I’ve felt the need to chase those words that I regret coming out of my mouth.


Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

16 comments on “Sometimes the best thing to say is…NOTHING!
  1. This is a great post Bill! My biggest challenge is can not reacting to something. Keeping my mouth closed until I can figure out if I need to say anything at all, and then what I say is not crazy sounding 🙂

    • Bill says:

      Christie, seems like we not only share a last name but a tendency to react vs respond. The good news is we’re both aware of it and we both getting better as we go! Thanks for commenting!

  2. Linda Ryan says:

    Great advice here, Bill. Now if only time could s-l-o-w down while in conversation so I could take time to ask myself those questions. I guess I’ll get better at it with practice.

    • Bill says:

      Thank you for your kind words Linda. I agree that practice is key to s-l-o-w-i-n-g down our thoughts and comments. 🙂

  3. Jean says:

    Great article Bill,

  4. Bob Burg says:

    Terrific, Terrific article, Bill. Indeed, as the Sages said, “Silence is a fence around wisdom.”

    I think those three questions you shared with us can make a HUGE difference in our lives. I’m going to begin practicing them right away!

    • Bill says:

      I love that phrase Bob…wonder who the ‘sages’ are? 🙂 Seems like I’m always learning from you. Thank you for your comments.

      • Bob Burg says:

        Whenever I refer to “the Sages” I’m referring specifically to the writings of the Sages in the Talmud. However, since we’re an equal opportunity employer, I keep it more “generic” and simply say, “The Sages.” LOL

  5. I like the analogy of “feathers in the winds.” Words spoken are like feathers in the wind. They are scattered about the countryside and can never be fully retrieved no matter how hard you try.

    • Bill says:

      Interesting analogy Jim…thanks for sharing it. I hope you’re ok down in Slidell after Isaac’s visit.

    • Jack Bresler says:

      That analogy has been guiding me for many years – but, from a different angle:

      just as feathers are whisked playfully about in different directions by the wind, so we can find ourselves in situations we did not intend – indeed, we forfeit the right to self determination – if we allow the wind to determine our movements.

      Practicing the “Stop-Edit-Do” approach you advocate here has tremendously far reaching benefits, for all aspects of our lives.

  6. Doug Wagner says:

    Great post Bill and the 3 questions are a good litmus test. I think the reacting versus responding question comes into play by asking those.

    With all this talk of Sages I think my response from now on is going to be “Let me think upon this. You may return in 3 days.”

    If nothing else it will be fun.

    • Bill says:

      First of all, thanks for commenting. I agree with you that responding is typically much better than reacting. Secondly, you crack me up – SAGE that your are 🙂

  7. Bill says:

    Bob, I so appreciate your referencing these three questions in your blog! I know practicing them (vs. perfecting them) has been a huge benefit for myself…and others! 🙂

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "Sometimes the best thing to say is…NOTHING!"
  1. […] Go-Giver Coach and Branding Authority, Bill Ellis shared something spectacular in his recent blog post that I believe covered this concept tremendously. He suggested three questions to ask yourself […]

  2. […] coach Bill Ellis posted in his blog Branding for Results, “Sometimes the best thing to say is…NOTHING!” three guidelines for speaking that are easily applicable to those of us in the […]

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