I was 15 years old when life taught me the value of silence. Or as I like to call it: How to shut up and listen first.
The year is 1992 and I’m in my 10th grade geography class, pretending to listen whilst day dreaming in the hot, humid class room. The whir of the ceiling fans and the whispers of my classmates passing notes behind me mingles with the monotonous voice of the teacher, practically a lullaby to nap-dom.
Suddenly, an intruder. “Sister Ellen wants to see Kavetha”
I’m shocked and mortified. After all, this is India and we only get called out of class to the principal’s office when something terribly wrong has been discovered. (I later learn this is the same in schools all over the world. But hey! I didn’t know that then).
Immediately, I know what this is about. “Dammit! I’m so stupid, why did I have show my test answers to the girl next to me at the mid term exams last week! Somehow sister Ellen found out and now I’m finished!”
Even dragging my feet as much as I did, I still get to Sister Ellen’s office in five minutes. She motions me in as she signs a piece of paper. “Yikes! It’s the letter informing my parents of how awful I was” I think.
To this day, I regret what I did next.
I hear myself blurt out “I’m so sorry sister. I promise I won’t do it again”
Sister Ellen looks up at me, slightly puzzled. I take that as an invitation to dig myself a bigger grave.
“Please sister. I don’t want to take that letter to my dad. I promise I won’t cheat in an exam again”
Sister Ellen replies “Kavetha, this is a letter asking your father for an appointment for an eye check up for another elderly sister in the chapel. But now I know you cheated. When did this happen? Tell me everything”
You can imagine the huge mess that followed.
That event burned the value of silence into my soul.
If you tend to speak before you think, or often regret what you said/did, this is for you: STOP!
Only losers do that. Success and poise is all about listening quietly and evaluating the situation before opening your mouth. Remember, words can never ever be taken back.
And you do not, I repeat do not, want to say half-assed things that will come back to bite you.
So next time you are in any important situation, whether at work or with your family, here are five ways to stop and think before you leap.
First, understand the CONTEXT: What is this situation about? Who are the main players? How is this going to be conducted? Have I been in this kind of situation before? It’s best to have thought these things through prior to getting into the situation. But if that’s not possible, I would suggest taking a moment alone to collect your thoughts before reacting in any way.
Content: What are we talking about? How much detail does this meeting warrant? What is my role in this discussion?
Emotions/Body Language: Look around the room and notice how people might be feeling. You can get this from watching body language: Hands on hips as show of power? Arms crossed defensively across chest? Anxious picking of lint from clothes? Smiling and chatting casually or brows furrowed with tense silence? As much as possible, try to match your body language to the overall mood to that of the room.
Meta-cognition: In every social situation, we engage on two separate levels. One is superficial, where you listen and reply to the content of the conversation. The second is the voice in the background, the one that says “This seems like a good time to ask about my raise” kind of thinking and making judgements. This deeper level is called meta cognition. Use yours when engaging with others so you can make your interactions more meaningful.
Quality over Quantity: Enough said.
Over to you: Have you ever felt silly for not shutting up and listening first? Do you have questions about how to better communicate? Share in the comments and let’s talk up a storm!