Not everything needs to be said by you now
We all know at least one.
That unfiltered person who prides themselves on always “speaking their mind,” giving exactly zero Fs, and being a straight shooter who tells it like it is, no matter what.
You never have to wonder where they stand on an issue or how they feel about someone or something because they freely offer their opinions (often at inopportune times) before you have a chance to ask.
(Not that you’d want to—amirite?)
The optimist in me would like to think they’re just woefully lacking in self-awareness, oblivious to how their words impact others.
And that perhaps they never learned the phrase “zip it, lock it, put it in your pocket” as my daughters did in pre-school to keep them from saying something they shouldn’t.
Because much as I’m a fan of transparency in communication, a blast of this brand of “honesty” can be jarring and quickly backfire, especially when it comes from a clueless leader.
Don’t be that person.
Your ability to communicate effectively is the one thing that is essential for your success, no matter your industry or role.
Done well, it helps you connect to others, enhances your relationships, builds trust, and paves the way for career success by bridging gaps between you and your clients, colleagues, and partners.
But even the most well-intended leader can stumble, especially under pressure.
When you’re working in the fast lane, your first instinct may be to immediately react to any issue, email, or person that enters your orbit, especially when it’s something you don’t agree with or understand.
Unfortunately, this can cause you to say and do things in haste that you’ll later regret.
The finest communicators understand the difference between being overly reactive and thoughtfully responsive.
And one of the best practices* of the latter is to pause before saying anything first to ask yourself these three questions:
1. Does this need to be said?
Before you open your mouth or fire off that email, consider if what you’re about to say is a crucial bit of communication or something else—your opinion, gossip, a knee-jerk defensive reaction, or an offhand comment you haven’t thought through. To help you further qualify it, remember the T.H.I.N.K. acronym, asking yourself if it’s True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind. If it doesn’t meet most of these criteria, it’s better not to speak.
2. Does this need to be said by me?
Once you’ve established that something needs to be said, the next filter is to ask if that message needs to come from you. Depending on the circumstances and your relationship with the intended recipient, the information needing to be relayed might be delivered more effectively by a colleague or one of your direct reports. And this doesn’t just apply to hard conversations, by the way. Empowering your senior leaders to share good news or feedback signals to them and others that you trust and value their judgment.
3. Does this need to be said by me now?
Even if this is something that needs to be said by you, it may not need to (or should) be voiced at this moment, especially in an emotionally-charged situation. Instead, take a few moments to reset. And chances are, you’ll discover that your commentary can wait until you have time to prepare, schedule a meeting for a later date, and craft a thoughtful response—or that you don’t need to respond at all.
By pausing to ask yourself these three questions, you can be more intentional with how and when to deliver your message.
And your ability to show restraint, especially when stressed or in the middle of a heightened exchange, will set you apart as a leader and communicator.
Another way to stand out as a leader?
By applying the Japanese business philosophy of Kaizen to your career.
In my latest Forbes article, I share five ways to adopt a continuous and never-ending improvement mindset to make perpetual professional progress.
P.S. When I’m not writing this newsletter or doing my best to zip it, lock it, and put it in my pocket when necessary, I’m a social media ghostwriter. (Yep, that’s a thing). I help founders craft their stories to communicate and connect better, magnifying their reach and impact. (Think personal branding and thought leadership.) Learn more here.
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*It might surprise you to learn that this communication nugget comes from an unlikely source: comedian and television personality Craig Ferguson. Though, as he admits in this (explicit) clip, he learned it the hard way—after three failed marriages!
I am currently writing my second book, which is about my ADHD. While your advice is solid for those who can execute this self-reflection, not everyone can. My lack of filter is not based on disrespect. It's not to be cavalier. My brain doesn't have the yield or stop sign. It's not a simple choice to decide whether to say something or not.
I hope my book sheds more light on this subject. I shudder to think of all of the disorders and disabilities that we accommodate (and should) but for some reason, ADHD is tossed aside as we should 'just fix it.' Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.
I love the three questions, Amy!