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August 2011 - Think Before You Speak or Act

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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Dr. John KlineBefore you say something, ask yourself if what you are about to say is necessary, true, and kind—and will it improve the silence. And before you act, ask yourself if your actions will improve or hurt the situation. Consider these three things.

1. The effects of words or actions can last a long time. A young leader confessed to her mentor that she had said things to subordinates and acted in ways she now regretted. The younger woman asked her mentor what she should do. The mentor told her to remove some feathers from a pillow, and then after everyone left the office for the night, put a feather on the corner of the desks of those to whom she had said or done things she now regretted. The young leader dutifully followed the advice and then called her mentor and asked what she should do next, whereupon, the mentor told her to get to the office early the next morning and collect the feathers from each desk. The next morning the young leader arrived at the office early, only to find that the janitors had dusted all the desks and no feathers could be found. The younger woman called her mentor and asked what she should do. Whereupon the older woman replied, “There is nothing you can do, for the words and actions like the feathers can not be recalled; just learn from it and move on knowing that if you continue to speak and act without thinking you will severely limit your leadership effectiveness and stifle chances for promotion.”

2. The least amount said when disagreeing, the better. This is a greater problem with close associates and the ones we love than with outsiders. With outsiders, we know we must be careful, but sometimes our high comfort zone lets us believe we can say anything to those with whom we are closest. There is truth in the words of the old song: “You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.” Leaders should not be too willing to share unhappy thoughts, doubts and opinions with their closest colleagues and subordinates—all things they may come later to regret. To paraphrase an old proverb, “A fool who holds his tongue and his lips is considered a person of understanding.” And we might add: one who does not do these things is often considered a fool.

3. When things are going well, be quiet. Unfortunately, many leaders make a mistake by talking just to hear themselves talk or acting so their presence may be felt. Just as good salespeople know that in addition to wasting words, they can lose a sale by talking too much, effective leaders know when to leave a good thing alone. Instead of micromanaging your subordinates or putting in your “two cents,” think: “What can I say to encourage them.”

Sometimes leaders think, “I am a good communicator; I write and speak clearly. People understand what I mean.” Thinking before you act or speak is important. Practice it and you will be a more better communicator and a more effective leader.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

August 2011 - Think Before You Speak or Act
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