Thursday, April 10, 2008

Words Well Chosen

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” That thought passed on to us by Mark Twain tells us something we’ve told ourselves a thousand times: “Next time, think before you open your mouth.”

We often confuse the brief pause that should precede a thoughtful response with ignorance rather than intelligence. The first thing we need to do is put our childhood competition to be fastest at everything behind us and adopt a different pattern—think before you speak. Several things will then be possible.

1) Who are they?
2) What did they say?
3) What are the most likely possibilities they are talking about?
4) Why are they talking about that now?
5) Why are they talking to me about that?
6) What are the possible things I could say?
7) What would be the best way to say them to this person?

Your brain with a bit of practice can handle all of that very quickly. Then when you open your mouth, it is less likely that you will simply insert your foot. You need to persuade your brain that brief pauses are not indications of stupidity. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. That pause should you the opportunity to decide what needs to be said and give you a pretty good idea of how best to say it.

One last question could/should be added to the list above. Ask appropriate questions before you respond. Be certain that you know what is being discussed. Remember, your brain may still be in the mode if was just moments before this new situation came up. It could be that your brain will interpret what is being said in light of what you have been thinking rather than the new context. Relax . . .take your time and avoid putting your foot in your mouth as often.

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