Do You Think Before You Speak? 7 Keys To A No Regrets Conversation
We’ve all been there.
That moment when you speak too quickly without thinking first. The words that spill out of your mouth cause you instant regret.
If you had just held your tongue for a moment, you could have prevented the cringe-worthy situation from occurring. You wouldn't have to experience the repercussions of offending, wounding, or embarrassing someone else.
Maybe you thought you were being clever or funny with your remark. Maybe you were angry, and in the moment felt justified with your remarks. Maybe you didn't know how the people around you would interpret your words.
Words have incredible power for good or ill. If spoken without consideration, you can do serious damage to yourself and others.
Do you take pause before you speak to consider your words? Often, we just say what is on our minds as soon as the thought enters our heads.
But taking just a few seconds before you speak to assess your thoughts, your mood, and your audience can go a long way in improving your relationships — as well as your own personal growth.
As Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
It is not only the actual word we speak that count, but also you must consider your tone of voice, inflection, and even your body language. Together all of these send a clear message to your listener about your intended meaning, even if the words themselves appear benign.
Do you think before you speak? Here are seven keys to help you consider the message you are sending when you speak.
1. Do you actually have something to say?
Children are often told that if they don't have anything nice to say, they shouldn’t say anything at all.
While this admonition mainly pertains to gossip and negativity, you can take it a step further. Remind yourself to not say anything if, you don’t have anything valuable to say.
This is an important element of good conversation and social skills.
People often speak to fill an uncomfortable silence, or because it seems better to say something than staying quiet. A gap of silence in the presence of others even causes anxiety for some.
Silence is not always a bad thing. It gives the speak and the listener the chance to process and consider what has been said.
When someone else is talking, just be present and listen. Try not to think ahead to what you want to say in return.
Just hear what the person is saying, and then stop to think and respond if you have something to say.
2. Consider your audience.
Are you about to lose your cool in front of your boss? Is that hysterical off-color joke something you really want to share in front of your mother in-law? Do you really want to offer your political opinion at the family birthday dinner?
All of your thoughts and feelings aren't appropriate for all people. Think carefully before you speak how your words will impact those around you — and how their response to your words might impact you.
Let's say you're in a group of friends with one or two new people you don't know well. You may be tempted to use inside jokes or make sarcastic comments that your friends “get.”
But you only have one chance to make a good first impression on the new people in the group. Speak with those people in mind first, and make sure your comments are appropriate for everyone.
If you need to offer effective feedback to someone, especially if it is negative feedback, it should be done in private. Think abut who is around to hear what you are saying, and if there's a possibility you could embarrass the person to whom you are speaking.
3. Consider your purpose.
Before you speak, make sure that you have a clear purpose behind what you are saying.
Are you trying to build rapport? Share your ideas? Clarify something?
Make sure that your purpose is in line with what you are saying by measuring your words, monitoring your mood, and considering your tone of voice.
This is particularly important if you have strong feelings of anger, frustration, or hurt related to the conversation topic. If your intention is resolution or to make a clear statement about your point of view, you will miss the mark if your emotions sabotage your language.
The total package of your communication should align with your purpose — from your body posture to your choice of words. It takes a certain amount of self-regulation and practice to do this effectively, but it's well worth the effort.
4. Are you being specific?
When you don't provide a point of reference for your listener, you are likely to miscommunicate.
Rather than referring to specific things without naming them, be as specific as possible. For example, if you ask, “Can you give me that?” then your listener doesn't know what the “that” is you are asking for.
When you aren't specific and clear in your language, it leaves the listener with the job of filling in the gaps with what they assume you're talking about. Their assumptions may be completely different from what you actually intended.
This kind of communication can be very frustrating for the listener and lead to a lack of understanding and possibly even conflict. Before you say anything, make sure to label people, objects, and places so that any listeners are able to understand what you are talking about.
You can also be more specific by giving examples, painting a clear picture with your words, and giving clear and precise directives if you need the listener to act.
5. Think about the words you choose.
Our use of language provides an insight into our education, where we grew up, and our thoughts and feelings.
Are you speaking with someone who has a very different background than you do? Perhaps you will need to alter your choice of words so your listener is able to feel more comfortable in the conversation.
It is also important to note that our use of pronouns gives hints about how we emotionally create sentences. For example, beginning a sentence with “I think” shows that the speaker has self-focus instead of empathy.
Alternatively, asking your conversation partner to elaborate on what they have been talking about shows that the listener is actively listening and caring about what is being said.
If you know the listener well (they are a spouse, close friend, or family member), you likely know words that will trigger them negatively.
Be careful to avoid trigger words by thinking in advance of the things you have said in the past that have caused pain or anger for the person.
6. Are you making an assumption?
Sometimes we create scenarios in our heads that can cause us to speak in a way that doesn't reflect the real situation.
For example, perhaps you haven't heard from a friend for a while, and you assume he is ignoring you. When you finally do speak to this friend, thinking he's been pushing you aside, you might have a bit of an attitude or reveal your hurt feelings.
Making an assumption like this can be harmful. Perhaps your friend has a legitimate reason for being out of touch. When you assume without clarifying, you risk harming the relationship.
Sometimes we make assumptions about people based on how they look, what they do, or what others have said about them. Try not to allow your assumptions to slip into your conversation.
Appearances are deceptive, and there's often much more to a person than meets the eye. You could miss a great connection by verbally pushing them away.
It is best to not assume anything before you speak because there is a good chance your assumptions are wrong and your words may cause more hurt than good.
7. Are you aware of your body language and tone of voice.
Remember, communication is more than just words. How you hold your body, whether or not you appear distracted, the tone of voice you use — these all contribute to the message you are communicating.
If you're unsure of your audience, or you have strong emotions going into the conversation, try to use open or neutral body language and tone of voice.
When you want to establish a connection with someone, don't cross your arms or keep your head down. Use appropriate eye contact, smile, and try to put the other person at ease with both your words and mannerisms.
It doesn't take long to pause and consider how you want to present yourself before communicating with another person. Just the few seconds it takes can make the difference in having a positive interaction or one you may regret.
As you develop the habit of thinking before you speak, it will become more and more automatic, putting control of how you want others to perceive you back in your own hands