Do You Say Things You Later Regret?

Posted by Todd Smith

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Six months ago, if someone were to ask me about my greatest weakness, I would have said that I had the tendency to say things I later regretted.  In some cases, I was trying to be funny.  In others, I just said the first thing that came to my mind or I felt I needed to contribute something to the conversation. And sometimes I did not have my ego in check.

A problem of mine for many years, it was one of those weaknesses that I just couldn’t seem to overcome despite my best efforts.  While I haven’t yet conquered the problem, I have made some great progress over the last six months.

It’s time for your self-evaluation.  Do you say things you later regret?  Do you say things that have hurt others?  Do you sound a little egotistical at times? Do you ever fire off an email you wish you hadn’t sent? Do you tend to overreact if you are angry or annoyed?

Everyone will tell you to “think before you speak” if you want to solve the problem of talking too much or saying the wrong things, but this stand-alone technique wasn’t working for me. I knew I had to try something different.

In this lesson, I am going to share with you six strategies that have begun to make a noticeable difference in my life.

1.  Talk less—I have been intentional about talking less.  After all, you can’t say anything stupid when you aren’t talking. Sitting back, listening, and observing others talk has been an enlightening experience for me. There’s always someone who wants the floor. It’s been a lot like watching a movie with your friends, family, or colleagues in the starring roles.

2.  Ask questions—I have been EXTRA intentional about asking people questions.  Asking questions forces you to listen more than you talk and requires you to think about what you are going to say because you can’t ask a question without thinking about it first.

I’ve observed two remarkable things.  One, my questions have allowed others to talk more, which they clearly have enjoyed. In some cases, I’ve seen them light up when answering my questions. Second, asking questions has demonstrated my interest in them, naturally drawing us closer.  I feel all of my relationships have improved using this technique.

3.  Don’t talk about me—I have been blessed with a rewarding career, financial success, and extraordinary family life, and it’s hard not to talk about myself and be proud of my accomplishments.  The last thing I want to do is sound egotistical, and it’s hard to find the right balance.

So for right now, I’m not going to talk about ME. I have learned that people prefer talking about themselves, and I would rather have conversations revolving around my interest in them.

4.  The “Two Second” Rule—This is one of the most effective communication tips I’ve discussed in several blog posts. After someone finishes speaking, wait two seconds to make sure they have completed their thoughts.

Focusing on this has been eye-opening. In most cases, someone’s pause only lasts one second and they start talking again. Some people speak slowly; others wait to see if you have something to say, and if you don’t, they continue to speak.

Being deliberate with the two-second rule has definitely reduced the number of words coming out of my mouth and my odds of saying something I later regret.

5.  Focusing on responding, not reacting—It seems like when I feel angry, aggravated, or frustrated, I am at a high risk of saying something I might later regret. Am I alone?

I now try to “take a step back” when I feel like I could say something I might regret. Using my self-control, I say to myself over and over again, “Be smart. Don’t say anything you will regret. Be smart. Don’t say anything you will regret.”  This has been VERY hard at times and I can’t tell you I have been perfect, but I have made great progress.

6.  Thinking before speaking—Lastly, because of the combination of these points and my strong desire to improve in this area, I have just been more careful with what I say.  I think writing the Little Things Matter blog and interacting with people on the Little Things Matter Facebook page has made me more aware of what I say and how I handle myself in my interactions with others.  It has forced me to think before I write or speak and consider how my words may be interpreted by others.

The benefits of my self-improvement in this area have been apparent. I’ve dramatically reduced the need for apologies. I have learned a lot about other people.  I’ve deepened my relationships. I have improved my self-control and I feel better about myself.

So, being honest with yourself, does this lesson have application to you?  Why not implement the strategies that have helped me?  What have you got to lose?

One of the greatest tests you will ever take is to test whether you can keep your mouth shut.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 43 years and founder of Little Things Matter. This blog contains over 200 of his timeless life lessons.

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