We all suffer occasionally from speaking without thinking, or foot in mouth. This has certainly ruined relationships, careers and lives. As a communicator, I try to be extremely thoughtful when I am speaking to others, especially in a business setting, but I too, often fall short.
In the abyss that seems to exist between thinking and speaking, lies awareness. Awareness is all about using our senses, including feelings and intuition.
There are two different kinds of awareness to consider between thinking and speaking: self-awareness and reading people.
Self-awareness is the inward consideration of one's own character, feelings, motives and desires. As human beings, we grow into our selves as we hone these four things. Each time we speak, whether consciously or not, these four are there. When it comes to self-awareness, the disconnect between thinking and speaking is not in worrying what others will think of us, or how they may judge, but rather, how we would like represent ourselves to others. I realize those sound like the same. Let me explain.
As a rowing coach, I had to be very careful with how I represented myself as a leader and a coach to the rowers. I am highly competitive, and as a coach wanted to make sure that I placed an importance first on learning and teamwork, and then on competition. My character, however would often get in the way and my words would come across as too harsh or frustrated when I didn't take time to consider that I wanted my message to be about camaraderie and improvement. Taking the time to think about what I was going to say to the rowers and choosing words carefully that were encouraging but also strong helped me represent myself the way I would like to be seen. I was careful to show that I am not only competitive, which is my true character, but also a teacher and encourager, which I was working on.
In speaking, I encourage all to speak their ideas without worrying how others may judge them. I caution, however, to bridge the thinking-speaking gap by considering first whether ideas and words are truly reflective of our character, feelings, motives and desires. As we talk about ourselves and ideas, are we representing these four, our past, present and future as we would like to be considered?
As for reading people. Once I consider my own character, feelings, motives and desires and how those are represented by what I am saying, I can do a better job of considering those four pieces in others. Here is a great article where An FBI Agent Shares 9 Secrets to Reading People.
The ability to read people is the epitome of intuition. Even if I am talking to someone for the first time, I try to sense their feelings. As I begin to say something that may be controversial in any way, it is worth it for me to consider what I know about my audience first. What is the person's background? Are they using humor so far when they speak? These are cues to observe before putting the proverbial foot in one's mouth.
Hindsight is 20-20 and you may think, after speaking "maybe I shouldn't have said that." Why does that become clear right after we talk? We likely didn't learn anything new about ourselves or the person in front of us, we just thought a little more about the two.
I am going to try, and I challenge readers to try to think a little more about two things before you speak: how am I representing myself? and what about the other person have I considered before I speak to them?
Let's all think of awareness of both kinds, before we speak.
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