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Let me guess. You're here because you don't think before you speak and the habit keeps getting you into trouble. Welcome to the club! My quick candor is both a virtue and a vice that's gotten me into a pickle countless times. I've improved, thanks to Ecclesiastes 5:2, “Do not be rash with your mouth” and other strategies I'll share with you.
I understand that, as a straightforward person, it can be challenging to withhold yourself… especially when you believe you're offering useful advice. Changing the habit might be easier once you review the reasons why thinking before speaking is a more acceptable approach.
I will also touch on the T.H.I.N.K strategy to help you along as you aspire to make the change. You stand to benefit in multiple ways, from improved communication to a more satisfying social experience.
How Do I Learn to Think Before I Speak?
Words flow out of the mouths of quick-witted people effortlessly. They always have something to say and an instantaneous comeback. Their brain quickly processes information and they're usually so excited about getting their response out that they don't stop to formulate their answers.
Whatever comes out comes out and sometimes they're things you regret saying. It's a natural tendency, so imagine the effort you'll need to put into learning to not speak ahead of your thoughts. In a nutshell, it's going to require a major mindset overhaul, but you can do it by using the following strategies as a guide.
I agree that it's difficult to pause to contain yourself when emotions are running high, but you'll improve with time and practice.
13 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak
Everything we say to someone has a positive or negative impact. Freedom of speech allows us to say almost anything we like during face-to-face or online communications, without needing to filter our language. Crude language, judgment, insults, and bullying cause people emotional distress and can trigger a mental breakdown. Those on the receiving end may feel unworthy or pushed to take their own lives.
Filtering our speech will help prevent the far-reaching negative consequences. As the world grows colder, more callous, and increasingly insensitive, choose to cogitate first and be kind with words. Dare to be different as you explore the importance of taming your haste to speak.
1. It puts you in control
Gathering your thoughts first not only influences your speech but also tone and attitude during communication. The ability to stop and assess your own feelings and state of mind at the moment puts you in command. You're more likely to speak from a place of logic rather than emotion. If you're feeling angry, sad, stressed, anxious, or depressed, perhaps you should wait until you're in a better frame of mind to speak. It's difficult to think effectively or be calm and empathic when we're not in a good place mentally.
2. Your words reflect your personality
You are your words. Always try to let your best self shine through when communicating. At a job interview, you speak carefully and decisively in order to impress your potential employer. The interviewers don't know you personally, so they'll rely heavily on your physical and verbal presentation.
Ironically, many people aren't as caring about their language when speaking to familiar people. Your true character comes out in the manner you speak to loved ones. You're taking them for granted if you speak to them anyhow without considering their feelings.
3. Words can inspire or destroy
“Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” –Yehuda Berg. In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, the authors, Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark Robert Waldman wrote: “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”
This is enough reason to think ahead and watch what you say. Speaking in haste can cause you to come across as tactless or cruel, even if that's not the intent. Instead of telling someone, “I'm not surprised you failed your exams. You're not that smart, anyway,” reframe it. You could say, “I'm sorry to hear this. I'm sure you did your best. I know you have what it takes to succeed the next time.”
4. It shows that you're considerate
Taking the time to search for the right thing to say conveys that the other person's feelings matter. You're able to contemplate what to say and how best to say it, regardless of if you're communicating with an adult, child, stranger, or someone familiar.
I've seen how some customers handle people in the service industry, such as waitresses and customer service agents. They come across as frustrated, angry, and irritated if they're not satisfied with the service. You'll be mindful of your expressions if you pause to consider these are human beings and value them regardless of their social or economical status.
5. You risk saying things you don't mean
Stress, fear, and anger make it far more difficult for you to choose words wisely. There's also a chance you might raise your voice or yell. Scientists say the logical part of your brain shuts down and the emotional part takes over. Scanning and filtering for the appropriate words go out the window at this point, making it more likely for you to say things you don't mean.
When you're in this mode, you're so worked up that you no longer hear yourself. You lose control over the ability to stop and check yourself. It's only after you calm down that you realize you overreacted or behaved irrationally. All of it could be avoided if you simply said something like, “I value what you said, but I'm not in the right mindset to respond to you in a loving way.”
6. Encourages more listening and less talking
It's important to actively listen to process what's being said, communicate effectively, and be relatable. You risk appearing selfish or insensitive if you rush to vocalize every thought or dominate the conversation.
Have you ever encountered someone who talks incessantly and hardly stops for you to get a word in? In fact, they'll cut you off when you start speaking after you patiently waited your turn. A lot of times, they'll change the subject without notice and carry on about it as if you're invisible. It's hard to conclude that the individual was actively listening, much less thinking before blabbering on about whatever came to mind.
7. You'll avoid offending people
How many times did you put your foot in your mouth only to have to say, “I'm sorry?” Your face is flushed with embarrassment, but it's too late to retract your statement. All you can do now is apologize for something you didn't mean to say. I've offended my fair share of people, including loved ones, because I didn't stop to ask myself, “Should I speak or should I hush up?”
I blurted out whatever I thought or was feeling at the moment. The habit left me feeling awful, once I realized the emotional damage I caused. I started journaling as a way to self-regulate. Stopping to write down my thoughts helps me to process, diffuse, and compose myself. I'm able to return to the conversation later with the right mindset, tone, and body language.
8. It minimizes the need for apologies
Apologies are welcomed and make a difference to those who are forgiving. However, how many times are you going to say “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that?” The same apology gets old and people will stop taking you seriously. After a while, you'll be regarded as someone who doesn't know how to control your tongue.
Instead of frequent apologies for speaking without thinking, consider developing the pause-breathe-think–speak habit. Remember silence is golden. It doesn't mean ignoring your loved ones. You can simply let your partner or friend know that you plan to respond at a later time.
9. The wrong words can hurt
There's a popular saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I beg to differ, as you and I both know that words can negatively affect us for a lifetime. In fact, words are powerful weapons. My ex used to tell me, “Your words are as sharp as a sword.” I was only 25 years old back then, but age is no excuse. Oops! Now you know why he's my ex. We laugh about it now because he's seen improvement. Admittedly, I'm still a work in progress.
I once overheard a woman telling her husband, “I can't believe I married such a dumb fool like you.” Ouch! She was obviously furious. If only she had paused to process her frustration first, she might have remained silent or said something loving. Think of how those words might affect his self-esteem for a long time.
10. You get a chance to clarify
We interpret what someone says based on our level of intelligence, life experience, and personal prejudices. As such, our understanding and conclusion of what was said might differ. If you practice thinking and planning your response, you'll give yourself a chance to ask the speaker to clarify what was said. You'll minimize the chance of responding on the basis of assumptions or lashing out because you misunderstood.
11. You cannot unsay words
In your haste to air your opinions or grievances, you risk making statements you can't ever take back. Of course, you can apologize if ever you fail to think before you speak, but that shouldn't be used as your defense. No amount of, “I didn't mean to say that” or “I'm sorry” could nullify your words or undo the hurt.
Your loved ones might forgive you, but that doesn't mean they'll forget or heal from the harm caused. To quote Betty Eadie, “If we understood the power of our thoughts, we would guard them more closely. If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative.”
12. You risk alienating people
Hashtag. Unfiltered. I lost acquaintances and a fiancé when I was younger and didn't practice filtering my speech. I justified my frankness as “brutal honesty.” The thing with brutal honesty is it can be received as tactless, judgmental, insensitive, or abusive. No one enjoys talking to anyone, including their partner or friend, who doesn't know how to rein themselves in when speaking.
They'll dodge you when they see you approaching, avoid replying to your texts or emails, and send your calls to voicemail. It appears mean, but you set yourself up for this type of treatment unless you prove that you've changed. Learn to pause and check your language and know when silence is the best remedy. If you must speak, try being gentle, sensitive, and compassionate.
13. You affect your own life
The need to think before you speak applies to self-talk as well. Psychologist, Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D., R. Psych, says “…speech influences your thinking and can alter the course of your future.” What you say to and about yourself influences your life experiences and outcomes. That's probably why positive self-affirmation is such a big thing. Positive affirmations help move your mindset away from doubts and negative self-talk that sabotages your chances for personal growth and success.
The T.H.I.N.K Before Speaking Technique
T.H.I.N.K is a technique involving five (5) words you can use to ask yourself five valid questions. It's easy to memorize. Feel free to apply it in everyday communications as you work on changing the habit of speaking before thinking.
- T = TRUE: Is what I'm about to say true or just a rumor that can cause emotional pain?
- H = HELPFUL: Will my statement help or hurt?
- I = INSPIRING: Is it good advice or something that will uplift the person?
- N = NECESSARY: Do I really need to say what I'm fixin' to say? Some things are better left unsaid.
- K = KIND: Are the things I'm about to say pleasant? Unkind words can be psychologically damaging and you can't take them back, even with a heartfelt apology.
Final Thoughts on Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak
Communication is a necessary part of human existence. It's how we do it that makes the difference. “Am I thoughtful, tactful, kind, considerate, and compassionate?” is a question we need to ask ourselves… perhaps even multiple times. If the answer is no, I truly believe we can change using the strategies discussed.
Finally, as a last bit of advice… whenever you find there is nothing pleasant or empowering to say, you can always choose to err on the side of caution with silence. It is also a good idea to try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes in a compassionate way.