“Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise: and he that shuts his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”
Proverbs 17:28 American King James Bible
One of the most obvious and significant attributes to mankind is the ability to communicate through speech. An interesting corollary is that we can also communicate our thoughts in real time; we do not need to plan what weâ€™re going to say before we say it. This has both advantages and disadvantages. It would be clearly undesirable for us to have to formulate our thoughts before we issue an immediate warning (“run!”) and communication would be dramatically slowed if we were unable to respond, naturally, to people in normal conversation.
On the other hand, this innate ability is often the source of consternation when what we say on the spur of the moment is something we later wish we had either not said, or said differently; it happens to everyone, sometimes, the trick is to remember when. Typically, this happens when we are responding quickly in stressful situations, or during confrontation, although it can happen at any time. Recognizing that we do not always say what we would like to communicate is an important realization â€“ how to help mitigate that issue is not complex, but does require some behavioral changes. The goal is to be aware of when to talk naturally and fluidly, and when to think before we speak… and when to not speak at all.
- Observe yourself: Take note of when this happens to you. What circumstances led to you saying things that, later, you wish you had said differently. Does it happen mostly with one particular person (or group of people)? Is it most often in arguments or debates? Is it when youâ€™re “on the spot” for information? Try to find a pattern. It might be helpful to start a journal of events so you can compare these at your leisure.
- Recognize your situation: After you determine what circumstances might be the most likely to produce this unwanted effect, try to be very observant about when those conditions appear to be manifesting. The more skilled you become at recognizing this, the better you will be at changing your approach.
- Observe the conversation: Now that you know youâ€™re in one of “those” situations, the goal is for you to process information. Often when we respond in a less than appropriate way, itâ€™s because we didnâ€™t fully comprehend what was being said. This is the time to sit back and listen to whatâ€™s going on around you. Donâ€™t start focusing on what youâ€™re going to say; just absorb. Your mind will process this information in the background.
- Observe the people: Who is speaking and how do they communicate? Some people are very literal and some people use examples. Some people use a lot of facial expression and body language to augment their conversation whereas others rely on complex verbiage. How people convey information is a very good indicator of how they best absorb information.
- Formulate responses: Not just one, but consider your options. There are many different ways to say things and your goal here is to find the best way to convey what you want to say in a way that has a positive impact. Communication is primarily a function of the recipient so you have to communicate based on the listener.
- Consider the information: Is what you want to say Effective, Necessary, Accurate, Timely, and Appropriate (ENATA)? If you are just responding because other people are talking, then itâ€™s possible your communication doesnâ€™t fit the ENATA model. If not, then sit back and continue to listen. You want what you say to have impact, not just make noise.
- Gauge the reaction: Is the information youâ€™re going to present formulated in a way to make a positive impact. Creating a negative atmosphere will guarantee failure in communications. You want people to understand that you are contributing rather than detracting. It only takes once to ruin your ability to communicate during that time. Identify how the listeners will react.
- Be thoughtful about your tone: How you say it is, in many ways, as important as what you say. Tone of voice can convey enthusiasm and sincerity, or it can rebuff and show sarcasm, and as most people have experienced, what we say can be taken in the wrong way. The most likely reason is that the tone of voice, what was said, body and facial language, as well as content, were not all thoughtfully combined to integrate with the listenerâ€™s most effective method of communication.
- Communicate: You now know what youâ€™ll say, why itâ€™s ENATA, how youâ€™ll say it and the most likely reaction. Wait for an appropriate break in the conversation and speak. Itâ€™s usually best not to interrupt, although there are occasions when that will work best. When to interrupt is beyond the scope of this document.
- Repeat Step 1: While youâ€™re talking, consider what youâ€™re saying and keep a close watch on the reactions as they emerge. After the conversation is over, review the whole process again in your mind and note what you might have done differently and why. This is an ongoing process. Over time, you will refine and improve â€“ you will become a better communicator and people will accept your responses with a more open mind.
- When you say something you shouldn’t have, fix it in your mind to avoid that specific situation in the future.
- Make sure your comments are relevant & appropriate to the conversation. Donâ€™t stray from the topic â€“ stay focused.
- This will take time â€“ it should become a part of your life. As you get better, you will be regarded as someone whose opinion is valued.
- You will often be considered more mysterious by not needing to say every thought that crosses your mind. Eventually, people will come to the conclusion that you know more than you’re letting on.
- Wait 5 or 10 seconds before responding. This gives you time to formulate a): if a response is required, and b): an appropriate and thoughtful response.
- Remember the famous and well-known quote by Abraham Lincoln: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” If you haven’t planned your comments well, give yourself some more time to think.
- If you do not know what youâ€™re talking about, do not try to be convincing. Itâ€™s OK to express an opinion but make sure people know youâ€™re speculating.
- If people aren’t actually addressing you, they may not want your opinion. Try to tone down how much you force yourself into conversations.