4 Steps to Avoiding Those Things You Wish You Never Said

A Communication Professional's Tips for Speaking Wisely.

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The other day I opened Facebook and a friend’s post screamed out at me:

“Throwback Thursday: That time when you said something really awkward and embarrassing to someone, and your brain won’t let you forget it. Ever.”

I was surprised to see the traction her words were getting–nearly 30 comments in just a couple of hours.

“Ever. EVER! It’s getting really crowded in that part of my brain…,” said one person.

“Story of my life,” said another.

“I still punish myself for an incorrect answer given in kindergarten,” said someone else.

The bravest part of each day is when we step out the front door knowing that, despite all the planning we’ve done, nothing can truly prepare us for what’s in store.  It’s almost inevitable we’ll mess up and say something awkward, inappropriate or ridiculous.

Or is it?

What if there was a way to avoid communication moments that replay painfully in your head after the fact? When I work with clients, I follow four key principles to communicating that I call my Secret Sauce to Speaking:

1.Honor the Power of Words

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu expressed this concept best:

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words;

Watch your words, they become your actions;

Watch your actions, they become your habits;

Watch your habits, they become your character;

Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

In essence, words define our destiny. To recognize this and honor the power of the words we choose is the foundation of positive communication.

2. Think First, Speak Second

A friend of mine is a master at this. When I talk to her she listens intently, without interruption, fully engaged. Then, before responding, she sits in silence for a moment, deep in thought and then, carefully, replies.  I have to admit that at first this sort of drove me crazy, I was fired up telling her a story and wanted her to fire back responses in equal measure. But, over time, I came to appreciate her thoughtfulness. I knew that when words left her mouth, they had gone through a filter. That her words were meaningful because she had respected their power—she thought first, spoke second.

3. Anything and Everything Can Be Communicated Diplomatically

I was a producer at the NBC affiliate in Seattle when new management decided to drastically cut local programming. One-by-one we were brought into the station manager’s office for “the talk.” As I listened to him, I thought to myself, “Holy cow this guy is good at delivering bad news.” He was positive, apologetic, up-beat and humane. Surprisingly, that moment turned into a valued life lesson–even the worst of news can be communicated with diplomacy and grace.

We can’t entirely control the outcome of what we say, but we can carefully craft and design the way we say things to get our point across thoughtfully. Diplomacy is the art of dealing with others in a sensitive, yet effective way. The litmus test for delivery is always one’s self.

How would we want to receive this piece of news?

How would we interpret this information?

What recipe of tact, sensitivity, and tone is required?

If you adopt the attitude that any message, however daunting it may seem, can be expressed in a way that will be heard and understood in a peaceful construct, roadblocks will open up for you. Anything and everything can be communicated diplomatically.

4. When Communicating, Follow Your Instincts

Many of us have lost our ability to trust and listen to this inner voice. We are moving in a world that requires us to pull further and further away from our intuitive selves through dependency on technology, real-time decision-making, and fast-paced living. But, there is a trick to tapping into our instincts when we communicate. Before emotions or intellect intervene, consider your unspoken words. Say them silently. Do they feel heavy or light? The words that leave you heavy should go no further, the words that leave you light deserve the honor of being spoken. When communicating, follow your instincts.

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