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.