Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips. –Ecclesiastes 10:12 It’s thoughtless speech that’s often the most damaging. You know…the first thing that pops out of your mouth. A quick comeback, a sudden observation, an un-evaluated…uh, evaluation. And impulsively…it’s out there…dangling in the air like a noose beckoning your own neck. Hurtful words often come to mind glibly, slip by sensible thought unchecked, and bounce off your tongue like flubber gone berserk. And once loose, they wreck irreparable damage within organizations. Because organizations are made up of people. And when you hurt the people, you hurt the organization. Now I’m sure politically correct language falls into this mix somewhere, but I’ll leave that for you to figure out. I’m mostly confused by it and think we’ve originated so much appropriate terminology you can have an entire conversation and say absolutely nothing. In business however, the bottom line drives everything and everyone is expected make a meaningful contribution to it. Cooperation in the workplace is therefore necessary and so is communication. And that’s where our mouth sometimes engages before our brain. So here are 3 questions to guide your tongue before letting your unfettered thoughts fly. Is it True? How often have you repeated something without verifying it? Drawn a false conclusion? Formed a subjective opinion? And that little tidbit you heard at the water cooler is way too juicy to savor alone. It must be shared. Avoid it like a plague—because that’s exactly what it is for an organization. Of course it’s easy to repeat something and absolve yourself by saying you’re just passing on what you heard from so and so. And it’s easy to form a judgment based on someone else’s subjective opinion. It’s much harder to set the record straight because that takes time and involves fact checking. But if you don’t know for sure, it’s best to say nothing until you do know for sure. Or simply say, “I’ll get back to you,” or “let me check on that.” And then do. Is it Beneficial? Okay, so the truth is Donald Trump’s hairdo is an artfully sculpted comb-over. So what’s the point in telling him? He knows it. We know it. If it makes him feel better pretending we don’t know it, let him. It’s not affecting his work and it doesn’t benefit him or us by pointing it out—even though I just did. He’s still rich and hugely successful. All it really does is to make us poor people feel a little better to know that even rich, powerful people are still a little insecure about some things. And that’s often our motive behind the hurtful things we say. It’s not really about helping that person or supporting the organization. It’s about raising ourselves up by tearing someone else down—and that’s all it does. So before you press on with your comment, be sure it really does benefit that person or the organization in some way. Because if it doesn’t, you’re better off to bite your tongue…then go vent at home later. Is it Gracious? So it’s true and communicating it will be beneficial. But it’s still hurtful. Can you be gracious about HOW you communicate it? I know. If it’s someone you dislike…someone that’s arrogant…someone who acts like they’re always right…well, it’s hard not to enjoy bringing them down a notch. Just keep in mind that we all make mistakes and we all have our moments of painful correction. So treat others graciously when you have tough words to share and maybe they’ll return the favor when it’s your turn. Of course there will still be times when you blurt out words and wish you hadn’t. But pausing a moment before commenting to consider if your words are true, beneficial, and gracious will go a long way towards reducing those times and protecting an individual’s self-respect—it might even be yours.
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