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The Importance of Thinking Before you Speak

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Thinking is regarded as one of the three mega skills: thinking, writing, and speaking.

These are the fundamental social skills required for living successfully. But while intellect is an asset with a strong genetic basis, thinking well is also a skill that can be learned. And part of thinking well is ‘thinking before you speak’.

Why ‘think before you speak’? Because while most of us are pretty careless with the words we choose, words are just so powerful. They can be helpful or hurtful and can have a direct influence on the outcome of a situation,  creating a positive or negative reaction in our world. Words define our identity and reveal our attitudes and sensitivities, reflecting who we are.

Our choice of words gives listeners an indication of our intelligence or ignorance.  And when continually reinforced and turned into habitually negative thought patterns, they have the power to create a bad habit of dwelling on the negatives in life.

The problem is, once words exit our mouths, no amount of apologies will make them magically go back in: blurting something out and then trying to retract it is like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.  On the other hand, thinking before we speak allows us the time to consider the effect of the words we are choosing.

Developing Healthy Habits

Thinking before you speak is a really good habit to develop, to avoid causing trouble in your life, whether in your relationships, career, or elsewhere. When you don’t think before you speak, you’re more likely to make badly informed statements and reduce your credibility, let alone hurt someone by ‘putting your foot in your mouth’, even if your intentions were genuinely harmless. Other times, particularly when feeling defensive, we tend to be very reactionary and quick to answer back without proper thought. For most of us, when we’re in an argument, our ego rises to defend its position. Becoming more self-aware of the power of the ego makes it easier to manage it.  And if it’s unavoidable to say something negative, thinking before we speak helps us be more tactful and understand how to offset negativity with something positive.

Plan Your Speech

While speaking may seem to happen without a lot of thought because it occurs so quickly, psycholinguistics research has shown that we do plan our speech in different ways and we do think in advance to various degrees. As such, we are not doomed to say the first thing that enters our head—we do have the ability to control our tongue. And it starts with really listening and comprehending during an interaction, before opening your mouth.

It’s up to us to control our tongues and take responsibility for what emerges from our mouths. Be prepared to think before you speak, say what you mean, stand behind your statements, and be responsible for them. Two great techniques for learning to think before you speak are to find your internal ‘pause’ button and to use the THINK acronym. Finding your internal ‘pause’ button will help you live life more presently and mindfully. 

The voice in your head may be saying one thing, but your ‘pause’ button will help you decide if it is something that should be said out loud.

  1. Recognize your triggers - pay attention to physical reactions and sensations that are building in you, such as increased body heat or the feeling of a “knot” in the stomach. Once you recognize your triggers, you can use them as a sign to activate your inner ‘pause’ button.

  2. Mentally say ‘pause’ -- imagine you are reaching for a remote control.

  3. Take deep breaths – providing extra oxygen to your brain assists with planning your speaking.

  4. Observe - listen to others. You may feel there is an obligation to say something all the time but there is not! Instead, listen to your thoughts and observe them as they come and go.

  5. Mentally press ‘play’ – this allows you to begin acting, mindfully.

It may seem that doing the above requires a lot of time and effort, and if you have trained your mind to always immediately react, it will seem like that at first. But it’s the inner ‘pause’ button is a simple reminder to yourself that you are allowed to wait and take the time to respond appropriately. Even just a few extra seconds of thinking time can make a huge difference, so simply ‘pressing pause’ allows you to make a better choice as to how to proceed.

Another great tool for helping to train yourself to think before you speak is to use the THINK acronym. THINK can help you take control, make good decisions, talk less, and listen more.

THINK stands for True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind: T – TRUE. Is what you are saying true, or is it ‘fake news’? Lies and misinformation hurt others and reflect the liar as someone untrustworthy. H – HELPFUL. Are your words helpful? Assisting others to make better decisions by offering good advice is also important. I – INSPIRING. Are others inspired by what you are saying? People are greatly inspired by words that influence to prompt others to do amazing things. N – NECESSARY.  Do your words need to be said? Useless chatter is annoying, while language that actively hurts others is wholly unnecessary. K – KIND. Is what you want to say kind? We all know the saying “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all”.  Unkind sentences have the power to hurt people.

THINK Concept

The THINK concept is useful not only in day-to-day interactions but for any situation where words are employed, such as in cyberspace--hurtful comments online are just as painful as if they are said in real life. Bullying at schools is a big issue in Australia today.

Cyberbullying (whether by texting, emailing, or on social media) can damage friendships, cause trust issues, spread rumors, and exacerbate mental health problems in young people. Teaching kids the usefulness of using the THINK acronym could help prevent negative speech online. But even adult keyboard warriors are known to shoot off a missive and then repent at leisure.

And beyond social media, as adults, we also experience the power of words in many other contexts. Even in ordinary conversation with friends, we often speak before really considering what we want to say and how to say it best. In other contexts, such as a job interview, the stakes can be high. So putting effort into learning how to better control your tongue will undoubtedly have positive repercussions in your life.

If you would like to discover how counseling can benefit you in your everyday life and help you learn to implement strategies and techniques for thinking before you speak, please give us a call at Cooks Hill Counselling

1 comment

1 Comment

Evelynn K
Evelynn K
Mar 23, 2022

Hello, I found this article to be quite helpful in my research. I do have one question,  could you please tell me the author's surname? I require it in order to properly site a quote for a school assignment. Thank you very much.

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