January 14, 2015

5 Questions to Consider before Uttering (or Writing) a Word.

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“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” ~ Napoleon Hill

We’re all familiar with the communication tool, “Think twice before you speak.” It’s a wise and timeless adage, one of many designed to assist the loquacious among us to “zip it” when the moment calls for it.

The question is: in this digital age of rapid-fire texting and Twittering sound bytes, do we have the time to pause—even for a nanosecond—to consider the possible repercussions of what we say?


So how do we circumvent the pitfalls of rapid-fire communication, express what we need to say, dispense with the fluff and ultimately leave all interlocutors in the thread unharmed and whole?

Here’s what helps me:

I use the five prong T.H.I.N.K. acronym—no, not when I’m texting or in brief, fluid banter with the mail carrier; but in those more reflective email exchanges or thoughtful conversations that warrant a little more care and qualification.

And this is how I find it helpful and (occasionally) unhelpful:

T—Here we are asked to consider whether what we have to say is true. 

Even in rapid-fire communication, it shouldn’t require a brain storm to determine—as far as we are aware and to the very best of our knowledge—the veracity of our assertions. Honesty in communication, especially between serious companions and partners, is imperative in my book, if the relationship is to endure. Dishonesty or any embellishment (or spin) on the truth could, and in most cases does, come back to bite us. And boy can it hurt! So as the fella says, honesty is the best policy.

H—Is what we are about to say/write helpful?

I find this one a little trickier. Many statements we make are, in my opinion, simply factual. They’re not intended to be either helpful or unhelpful. That said, if the communication piece in question is of the more thoughtful kind, perhaps a pause moment to consider the helpfulness component of what we’re about to say, is worth it.

Moreover, if the statement is “helpfully neutral,” is it important factually or just fluff? If it’s the latter, perhaps we could dismiss it and move on. Again, whether something is helpful or not should (for the most part) be fairly obvious to us smart earthlings! Consequently, a quick and informed decision on this one normally comes easily.


Okay this is the one I find somewhat lame. Why? Because, even in those more thoughtful, reflective exchanges—phone calls, emails or whatever—trying to weigh the inspirational content of what we communicate is, at least for me, a bit of a stretch. Sure, we have our intermittent moments of communicating, spontaneously or otherwise, our wee gems of inspiration, but they are the exception.

It’s okay not to be inspirational in most of what we have to say! It’s just fine to be honest, clear, concise and genial—we’re not meant to be White House speech writers or medieval bards when we speak! So my take on this one is: use it sparingly and for the most part chill.

N—Here we are asked to consider whether or not what we communicate is necessary? 

As Plato once said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” It’s one thing to communicate what is essential in a conversation; it’s quite another to include allegations, expletives, gossip and hearsay, just to fuel an animated exchange.

If our allegations, judgment, gossip and embellishment contribute nothing to what needs to be communicated, then “zip it,” period. Not only in terms of communicating the essentials in a dialogue, but in keeping the exchange pure, authentic and free from ego-infestation.


Next to the necessary component above, this—for me—is the second most important attribute in any real conversation. If what we have to say, apart from the factual content, is not communicated in a spirit of kindness, or if what we say prompts an unkind response or judgment on the part of our respondent, then perhaps it is best left unsaid. Kindness is a loving energy and when shared with purity of intent, it is contagious and self-perpetuating. Just as lying will come back to bite us, words spoken in kindness—naturally—return not to bite but to caress us time and time again.

For what it’s worth, this is how the T.H.I.N.K conversation toolkit helps me.

As mentioned, I find the helpful and inspiring components to not always be that helpful or useful, so if I’m in a more rapid-fire yarn with someone, I can rely quickly and efficiently on the other three. Therefore abbreviating the toolkit to TNK.

Given that we think faster than the speed of light and rely daily on our digital devices for communication, I believe it behooves us to draw on some kind of personal guidelines if we want our relationships to endure and flourish.

Happy texting!

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Author: Gerard Murphy

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Marty Hadding/Flickr

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