Think Before You Speak

Have you ever spoken and wished that you could immediately take the words back or that you could crawl into a hole and disappear from the scene?

One of the most significant attributes of humans is the ability to communicate through speech. With this attribute also comes the natural skill to communicate our thoughts in real time without the need to plan what we are going to say before we say it. This has both advantages and disadvantages.

Can you imagine how communication would be dramatically slowed if we were unable to respond fluidly to people in normal conversation? On the other hand, this innate ability is often the source of concern when what we say on the spur of the moment is something we later wish we had either not said, or had said differently. Typically, this happens when we are responding 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 realisation. Mitigating this issue is not complex, but it does require some behavioural changes. The goal is to be aware of when to talk naturally and fluidly and when to think before we speak and when not to speak at all.

Good listening skills can lead to better human relations, customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes as well as increased sharing of information that in turn can lead to more creative and innovative work. At the core of any effectively functioning team is an ability to communicate effectively. Effective communication is frequently misunderstood to mean that you should say what you are feeling or thinking, when you are thinking it or feeling it, and let the other person just deal with it. In some instances, others believe that they should hold everything in until they are ready to explode, and then explode all over everyone. Neither of these two scenarios represents effective communication.

Effective communication is a function of people skills. People skills is not only limited to communicating effectively but also implies understanding people, expressing yourself clearly, asserting your needs, exchanging feedback, influencing others, resolving conflicts and being a team player. Thinking before speaking is a challenge for a lot of people. It might even be hard for you, especially if you are trying to prove to the world how smart you are. Trying to prove how smart we are, is just one of the bad habits that can lead us to speak without thinking.

Some people use anger as a management tool to some success. It can get people’s attention, however the difficulty is that when you are angry, you are usually out of control, and it is hard to lead people when you are out of control. It is also hard to predict how people will react to your anger. The worst thing about anger is that it stifles your ability to change. Once you get a reputation for emotional volatility, it can take years of model behaviour to change how others see you. People’s thoughts, beliefs and actions are perfectly aligned with each other in such a way that they all reveal the same things about the person. To have effective communication in the work place, team members must keep an open mind, engage in active listening and have a clear understanding of project goals and requirements. The same applies in a relationship, family and community.

Guidelines for thinking before you speak

Be thoughtful about your tone. Your 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 listener’s most effective method of communication.

Is what you want to say Effective, Necessary, Accurate, Timely, and Appropriate? If you are just responding because other people are talking, then you may want to sit back and continue to listen. 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. When you say something you should not have, and if it was something hurtful, make a point to apologize either immediately or in private, however is most appropriate. At the core of effective communication is taking responsibility for your words, feelings and behaviour. Whether in meetings or in individual conversation, these are important things we should consider so that our interactions can yield better results, improve productivity and enhance team cohesion.

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