If you don’t, you might end up eating your words! The best way to illustrate what I mean by this comment is to describe what began as a simple business transaction but ended up as an awful, unforgettable experience. Recently, I was at a client meeting with a person who was clearly in a terrible mood. And it was evident right from the start. At one point during the meeting, she simply lost her cool. In the course of losing her cool, not only was her tone of voice inappropriate, her language was abusive, shouting obscenities at me. To add to this abuse, she informed me that she would not pay me for my work.
Needless to say, I was shocked! In all my years of business, I’d never experienced anything like this before— this verbal abuse. And I trust it will never happen again. I determined to forgo payment and never have anything more to do with her.
But later that day, I received a call from her assistant – not with an apology from my former client, but with an assurance that the bill would be paid. Letting me know how truly sorry she felt about what happened, she explained that this outburst was definitely out of character for her boss.
It’s apparent, of course, that it was the support staff who did the eating of the words. And yes, it’s true; my former client never did apologize. At the same time though, this ill-behaved woman realized she was wrong.
Her bad behavior convinced me that if her or her company’s name came up in conversation I would never recommend either. If she thought before she spoke, it would certainly have been a different matter. As you are no doubt aware, this story is proof that choosing one’s words carefully is never more important than during a business transaction. We all have bad days and we are all capable of speaking before we think twice, but we don’t want to end up eating our words. So here are three tips that serve as an excellent guide to ensure you think before you speak:
Think before you speak
1. Know thyself: Examine the instances where you have either spoken thoughtlessly or been tempted to do so. It is likely that they occur in similar kinds of situations. (For example, meetings with an impatient boss, a demanding client or difficult employees.) Once you recognize the kinds of situations that “push your buttons,” you will be more prepared when they arise, and will have strategies to avoid falling into the trap of not thinking before you speak.
2. Cultivate positive speaking: People often talk about the power of positive thought. It’s equally true that choosing positive words in your business communications may make what has the potential to be an unpleasant confrontational situation, remain a civilized, professional one. For example, if you are about to say, “I can’t possibly deliver ‘x’ by Friday?” stop yourself, and rephrase it to say something along the lines of, “I’d like to get ‘x’ to you Monday rather than give you work that is too rushed. Is that possible?” Take an internal mental moment to rephrase the negative as a positive. And if you do, you’ll realize it’s not usually too difficult to look at most situations as “a glass half full” rather than “a glass half empty.”
3. Keep your goal front of mind: In any given business situation or meeting, ask yourself what it is you hope to achieve. All of the words you choose should flow from that idea. Knowing what the end goal is, discard unnecessary, excess communications, verbal or written. Focus all of your attention on expressing ideas that are essential to achieving your goal. It is frequently true that less is more. So in any business situation, say only what really needs to be said. Strive to make your words positive, relevant and appropriate. If you do, you will not only have more success in achieving your goal, you will find people respond to you in kind.
Oh, and yes, of course you can also use that tried and true technique that your mother probably told you: “Count to ten before you speak!”
For more ideas about how to think before you speak, see The Power of Words: Words that Sell, Profanity and the Power of Language: When Words Offend, When the Boss Says You Don’t Write Well: What do you Do?
Have you ever landed in hot water for speaking without thinking? If you have any tips regarding what you learned from it, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.