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The art of keeping your mouth shut when necessary

News Desk || shiningbd

Published: 15:18, 23 January 2022  
The art of keeping your mouth shut when necessary

As a child I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut. For some reason I was born hardwired to speak my mind. This was something that did not always serve me well. Because my nature was to be outspoken, I had to mindfully practice keeping my mouth shut – which has proven to be no easy task.

As I entered the working world, I soon discovered that there is a delicate balance between speaking up and keeping quiet and some people had mastered the art of knowing when, why and how to do this. Because I was always looking for tools and examples on how to keep my mouth shut I became a diligent observer of those experts and learned some of the best leaders were the ones who excelled in the art of keeping their mouth shut and speaking up at the right times.

Based on my observations I came up with the following 11 tips to help my fellow outspoken strugglers master the art of keeping their mouth shut:

Know your end goal. When you are looking to achieve a goal, develop good relationships, encourage others or build trust, sometimes it is best to remain silent. When you understand your end goal and stay focused on that, it can help redirect your instinct to speak your mind – especially if it will interfere with your ability to meet your end goal. I love the saying, "do you want to be right or do you want to do ____ (fill in the blank)?" When you are plugged into your end goal and stay focused on that, you are less likely to give into the impulse to speak.

When you can’t win. If you are in an argument/discussion with someone who refuses to see your side, entertain alternative perspectives or begins to manipulate the conversation to shift your focus off the topic at hand, it is best to stop talking to avoid causing any more damage. When engaged in this type of exchange it is best to just stay out of someone’s way as the situation is bound to spiral downward. Better to regret not saying something for a short period, than to regret what you said for a lifetime.

When you don’t know what you are talking about. My mom used to say, "better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are stupid than open it and remove all doubt". People know when you are full of bunk, even if they don’t confront you with it. It is better to saying nothing at all than to begin to spout off as if you know what you are taking about. If you feel the need to weigh in without facts, make sure to clarify that this is your opinion or feeling about something.

When you are talking to talk. Silence is awkward and most of us don’t like feeling awkward, so we begin to talk to avoid that. What happens is we start to ramble or end up saying something we regret. If you don’t have anything useful to say, it is best to say nothing at all. Sometimes there is beauty in silence.

When you are in a bad mood. Typically if we are in a compromised emotional state, our perspective is skewed and we aren’t looking at things rationally. At the end of the day we have to own our behavior and regardless of what we are going through it is never acceptable to allow our mood to override our better judgment. Simply ask someone to table this discussion for a later time or refrain from commenting until you have time to think on a matter.

When you are bragging. We all like to share and we like to share good news, but there is clear difference between bragging and sharing. I love the skit on Saturday Night Live with Penelope who tries to one up everyone she converses with This masterfully showcases the difference between sharing information and bragging.

When someone touches a wound. We all have baggage and wounds on our soul. Sometimes when someone inadvertently touches those wounds we want to respond from a place of pain, jealousy or insecurity. It is important to recognize these moments and pull back your comments as they will do nothing to better your conversation.

When you ask a question. This falls under that awkward silence piece. Sometimes when we ask a question if the person doesn’t respond immediately we begin to fill in the silence with jibber jabber. What this does is breaks someone’s concentration when they are trying to think through their response. There are also times when we ask a question and immediately, without taking a breath, explain why we are asking the question.

When you are clearly boring someone. I love to tell stories and in HR there are lots to tell, but sometimes people don’t always want to hear my stories. Sometimes at work I feel passionately about something but my audience doesn’t share that passion. This has forced me to pay attention to someone’s body language to see how plugged in they are to what I am saying. If they are looking around, checking their watch, glancing at their phone or otherwise distracted I know that I have lost their interest. When this happens I wrap up my story or point quickly and move on.

When you have nothing nice to say. Remember the saying, "If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all"? This is tried and true advice that we all should follow. It is even better to say that you don’t have anything nice to say other than begin to spew a bunch of negative comments about a person or situation. The things you say, tell just as much about you as they do about what or whom you are speaking about so choose your words carefully. Most important is don’t be a complainer. A little complaining goes a long way but if you dwell on complaining people will rush out of the room when they see you coming.

Know your audience. This is so important in business. Understand who you are talking to and what they are interested in hearing. Also knowing your audience will help you prevent any potential land mines. I have found that it is a small world with many intersecting paths. Recently at a work event my colleague was talking to someone at a conference (positively thank goodness) about a challenge faced by an actor and the person with whom he was speaking said, "I know that challenge well as he was my father". What are the odds of this happening? Actually higher than you think so best to be sure you know your audience.

Speaking your mind can be a gift if channeled in the right direction. If you know your audience and choose your moments carefully you will discover the power in your words. Equally so, you will find the power in your silence.

As I continue my journey of reformation, I would love to hear your tips on how you decide when to open your mouth or when to keep it shut.



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