Three Tests for Thinking Before You Speak
If you’ve been with us for any length of time, you know that communication is one of our highest priority topics. This week, we’re focusing in on the ability to think before we speak. It is communication, yes, but it is also self-management and the ability to curb our instincts before making a sound.
How many of us have had moments where, without really thinking about what we’re saying, we’ve just blurted something out? Perhaps it was an ‘Are you kidding me?’ sound of exasperation after an irritant had gotten under out skin. Maybe it was a ‘You’re not going to believe this’ lead in to a story about something that had happened to us. Perhaps it was a flippant response to a question like ‘How are you?’. My friends, if we don’t think before we speak, we run the risk of doing irreparable damage as sometimes the harm caused by the words we speak is irreversible. And even in the cases where it can be undone, it requires extensive care, apologies, backpedaling, and an ultimate rebuilding of trust. We must be so careful with our words.
My mom used to do an object lesson with a tube of toothpaste during the children’s message at church on Sunday morning. She would squirt the toothpaste onto a paper plate and ask one of the kids to put it back in the tube using only a toothpick. She would let them try, but of course they never could get all the toothpaste back inside the tube. No matter how much we try or how much we want it, once the toothpaste is out, there’s no putting it back in. So it is with words.
Once the words have come out of our mouths, we can’t take them back. And so, I implore you, dear readers, to think before you speak. There are three specific tests to help you think before you speak.
1. Socratic Test
This is the three-way test that Socrates used to recommend. When you go to tell that story, or share that complaint, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Is this true?
2. Is this good?
3. Is this useful?
If the thing that you are about to share is not all of those- it’s not factual, it’s not uplifting, or it’s, quite frankly, a waste of time for everyone please don’t share that story. If the Socratic test sounds familiar, it might be because we’ve discussed it before. Click here to read more.
2. The Listener Test
The Listener Test is a series of questions you can ask yourself to help evaluate how the words you are speaking might be heard by anyone who is listening. As you conduct the listener test, you’re thinking about your tone, your word choice, the audience, and the innocent bystanders who may be listening.
You’re literally taking a moment to think:
- How is my tone? Will I come across as sarcastic or judgmental? Will I come across as asserting that I am somehow better or the other person is somehow lesser? Do I sound unreasonably negative?
- How is my word choice? Am I using words for which I would want to be remembered? Are they an accurate reflection of how I feel?
- How about my audience? Do they deserve to see this side of me – if it’s a negative side? Would they recover from what they hear? Do I need to protect them in some way or adjust my influence to make a more positive impression?
Think about your tone of voice and your words. Think about how you will be heard by those you tell and those nearby. If these were your last words spoken on a topic or in general, is this how you would want to be remembered?
3. The Test of Time
The Test of Time forces us to stop and think about the effects of our words over time. Because our words will likely feel relevant in the moment, most of us don’t stop to think about the impact they might have down the road. This test helps us think about their impacts five minutes, five days, and five years from now.
If the thing you’re about to share is positive, lighthearted, uplifting, and fun, down the road, people will likely remember that you brought compassion, kindness, and spirit to the moment. But, if the thing you’re about to share is negative, critical, bitter, harsh, or sarcastic, stop and think about the impact your words might have, on your own attitude and other’s, five minutes, five days, and five years from now.
- How will this matter five minutes from now? Perhaps you’ve had 100 things happen to you today; 96 were good and two were even excellent. But, the last and most recent two things were irritating. Before you start to vent about them, ask yourself truly, will this topic matter five minutes from now? Five minutes from now, when the 101st thing happens, do you want to be remembering number 99 and 100? Or, do you want to focus instead on the other good and uplifting things that have happened to you today?
- How about five days from now? Five days from now will you even remember this? In our collective business and all of the millions of pieces of data that we’re encountering and absorbing each day, this thing – this inconvenience or irritant – does it matter? Five days from now, do you want to be remembered for venting about those two, relatively tiny things? If you won’t remember it, or don’t want to be remembered for it, five days from now, don’t memorialize it with words. Don’t carve it into memory in a more indelible way by voicing it. Just let it go.
- What about five years from now? Five years from now is this a topic that you’ll want to be talking about? Would you want to remember it? Would you want to be remembered for talking about it? Would you want someone five years from now to remember this conversation and hold it up as an example of how you behaved to others?
My friends, if we want better weekends, they start with better workweeks. And those better workweeks start with better interactions with our colleagues. And if we want those better interactions then we must co-create the messaging. We must think before we speak so that our influence is one that inspires and encourages rather than tears down and dwells on the negative. Think Before You Speak- The Socratic Test, The Listener Test, and The Test of Time. What other tips can you offer? Join us on social media!