Most of our communication involves talking. Said differently, while our nonverbal communication is important, what we actually say matters a great deal. I’ve found two things true: First, I need to watch my mouth, and second, if I don’t watch my mouth, there are consequences.
I don’t think I’m alone here. Many people get this wrong. They simply don’t have a strategy for what not to say. This gets us in trouble. You can do your part to cut conflict by using these 4 questions to ask yourself before you speak.
Question 1: Is it true?
What you say must be true. Sounds easy, right? But are you totally honest? There should not be any deceit in what you say, even if you could get away with it—like when at a movie theater box office, somebody wanted to charge me for a child’s ticket when my child was actually a teenager. I could have agreed and saved a few bucks, but if something isn’t true, we shouldn’t say it. This means we do not lie. We do not exaggerate. If we do any of these things, our words lose meaning, and, eventually, people stop listening.
Question 2: Is it kind?
We should not be known for angry outbursts, yelling, or belittling anyone. But once, when a scheduling error at work resulted in an unexpected change of plans, I took my frustration out on a coworker and I did it unkindly. While it is true that a mistake happened, I didn’t have to discuss it in an unkind way. The truth needs to be spoken in love. I’ve had to work on this over the years. Speaking the truth is easy, but speaking the truth with compassion and empathy isn’t. For a relationship to thrive, it’s vital the people around you feel truly connected with you. Everyone needs to know there’s a safe place with you. Sure, you’ll give the truth. But truth without love and kindness is dead.
Question 3: Are my motives right?
We must always be on guard that we aren’t using words to get our way. If you aren’t sure whether your desire is just for personal gain, stay quiet. Seek to understand whether your motivation is selfless or selfish. Sometimes, simply asking yourself what’s in it for you will help you realize why you’re saying what you’re saying—like the time Susan came home and I pointed out all the laundry I had folded. Deep down, I hadn’t done it because I wanted to serve her. I’d done it (and said something about it) because I wanted her to give me accolades. Instead of giving me accolades, she said “OK,” and walked away.True love seeks the other person’s best interests over your own.
The wrong motivation will hurt your relationships because ultimately, you’re playing a manipulating game. True love seeks the other person’s best interests over your own. You can speak lovely and kindly but use your words with the wrong motives and you are not living out your calling properly. Instead, you are being hurtful and ultimately will cause division.
Question 4: Is it timely?
Of all the questions to ask yourself before you speak, this one helps you determine the right time to say what needs to be said. You can use your words to speak truth, be kind, and be selfless. But if your words come at the wrong time, you will most likely set yourself up for more conflict. We should be on the lookout for when the time and situation are right. I appreciate what Ken Sande says about timing: “Timing is an essential ingredient of effective communication. If possible, do not discuss sensitive matters with someone who is tired, worried about other things, or in a bad mood. Nor should you approach someone about an important concern unless you will have enough time to discuss the matter thoroughly.”
Timing your words may be as simple as considering whether the other person is exhausted, distracted, or simply doesn’t have enough time to talk thoroughly about an important topic—before you say something. For example, with my wife, Susan, there are days when I may want to complain about how difficult my day was. That isn’t a bad thing. But if I haven’t noticed that Susan’s day didn’t go well either, my timing could be better. The person who is careful to notice his words and his timing will not only prevent unnecessary conflict but ultimately will strengthen his or her relationships.
Sound off: Are there any other questions to ask yourself before you speak?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What should you do before you speak?”