Open Mouth, Insert Foot

4.7.16 foot and mouth diseaseI just finished delivering a full day seminar on verbal communication (all my workshops and trainings are about some form of communication) and I left the audience with a list of key takeaways, one of which was: Think about what the words are doing before they come out of your mouth.

Before you say them, consider the impact the words will have.  The brain moves 7x faster than the mouth, with average speaking times of 115 wpm, but thinking speeds of approx. 825 wpm – resulting in a sizeable 710 wpm gap.  The brain can do a whole lot of split-second thinking before the mouth has opened to utter a sound.  Use that time to think about what the words that are about to come forth may or may not DO.

What impact do you want your words to have?  Have you given them any thought at all, or are you prone to just rambling out anything that pops into your head as good enough to say?  What effect do you want your words to have?  Take the time to choose thoughtfully.

If the intended impact is to help the person, good for you.  Help away.

If the words will do nothing, bite your tongue.  They are probably just coming out to show off how smart you are or to build your personal self-esteem, to make you feel important. If they don’t do any good to help the situation, why say them?

Case in point: a couple were expecting their first child, a product of in-vitro fertilization.  As they told about the ordeal of getting pregnant, were past the tough phase, and excitedly awaiting the birth date, stories started to circulate of a higher incidence of issues with children born in-vitro than with natural births.  Without a crystal ball to the future and no means to change anything that was yet to be, what good did such tragic thoughts do?  No good at all and better left unsaid.

If the words have the effect of potentially harming the person, consider, is that your intent?  If you later end up apologizing, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think…”, well then you should think; you have plenty of time to think, you just need to get in the habit of doing so.

Think about all the times we speak to just further our own cause.  Someone says something, so we feel the need to one-up them and tell about our better story, “Oh, you think what happened to you was bad.  Let me tell you about what happened to ME…

Or someone makes a remark and you simply have to add your superior knowledge of the subject to let them know how brilliant you are.  Stop – does it add anything to the conversation?  Perhaps it does, in which case, by all means add it, but do it in a courteous way, not in a “ha, take that!” way.  You know what I mean.

I challenge you to put the following rule into your repertoire: What I am about to say should either add meaningfully to the conversation or help the other person in some way.  If it is just to make me look smarter or make my ego feel better, I don’t need/won’t say it.

Good luck, if you happen to have an unfortunate case of Foot in Mouth disease.


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