Chances are that we’ve all done it at one point or another. Whether it be during a moment of anger or nervousness or insecurity, we’ve all said something that we later regret or wish we could take back. We’ve stuck our foot in our mouths or let our words get the best of us. It’s a sinking feeling, knowing we’ve caused someone else real pain, simply because we couldn’t keep our mouth shut.
The old childhood rhyme says sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Unfortunately, we all know that’s not true. Words do hurt, sometimes deeply. And whether we’ve been hurt by other people’s words or guilty of using our words as weapons to wound someone else, learning to tame the tongue is an essential skill we could all use practice in every now and then.
My friend Karen wrote about this very subject in her new book, Keep it Shut, which arrived in bookstores last week. I was lucky enough to be able to read an advanced copy a few months ago, and then I spent some time this past weekend re-reading it again. It has so many great reminders and practical tips for keeping your mouth in check, and if you haven’t already picked up your copy, I highly recommend it! The book is jam-packed with wisdom, but here are just five of my favorite tips for taming the tongue:
Every single day, multiple times per day, we have the option to be frustrated, hurt, irritated, angry, or judgmental about something someone else has done. It could be that our husband left a mess in the kitchen or that our kids broke our favorite mug or that our best friend didn’t forgot our birthday. It could be the mom whose child is having a temper tantrum in the grocery store or our sister bragging about her child’s success….again.
And while our default mode might be to feel disappointed or let down, in all of those situations we have the choice to choose grace. Even when we don’t want to. Even when they don’t really deserve it. Especially when they don’t really deserve it. After all, that’s exactly what grace is–undeserved.
Listen More Than You Speak
Every time I leave home to go to a conference or meeting, my husband kisses me goodbye and says, Remember honey, you have two ears and one mouth. Be sure to listen twice as much as you speak. He knows that I tend to get nervous in new social situations, and my nervousness can result in becoming extra chatty. His little reminder helps me keep my nervous chatter to a minimum and helps me to be more intentional about making sure I am listening to the people around me at least as much as I am opening my mouth to share.
In Keep it Shut, Karen admits that her family sometimes calls her the “Gap Filler,” the one that is always eager and willing to fill any gap or pause in the conversation with words. She recounts how she has learned, albeit the hard way, that some people need a little more time to collect their thoughts, and just because there is a lull in the conversation, doesn’t mean they are done talking.
Spending more time listening also helps us avoid misunderstandings. It is easy to jump to the wrong conclusion, especially when we haven’t had a chance to hear all the facts. While you might often regret speaking too soon, you will never regret taking the time to really listen.
Examine Your Motives
One of the best ways to keep your tongue in check is to examine your own motives behind the words that you feel like saying BEFORE you say them. I don’t know about you, but I am definitely guilty of becoming ultra critical or snarky towards someone else when the truth is usually that I am feeling jealous or insecure. I can offer backhanded compliments that are really meant to dig, or even try to puff up one of my own accomplishments in an effort to try to impress the person who I am feeling intimidated by. Unfortunately, these solutions almost always leave me feeling worse than I did before I said them! Being in tune with the way I am feeling and my own motivation behind the words I say helps temper what comes out.
We’ve all heard the old proverb: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all. While insincere flattery can get us in almost as much trouble as sharp words or criticism, silence truly is golden. After all, no one can fault you for words you haven’t said!
Do whatever it takes to keep from blurting out things you might later regret, whether it be literally biting your tongue, or simply counting to 10, 20, or 100 before speaking.
Watch Your Words
Let the words you do speak be sweet like honey. Ask yourself, before you begin talking, are the words I am about to speak the ones I really want to be remembered for? Are they encouraging and constructive? Are they truthful? Are they kind? Are they building someone up, rather than tearing them down? Are they factual? Are they wise? Have I listened well? If the answer to any of these questions is no, consider rephrasing them or not speaking at all.
Chances are we’ve all said something we wished we could take back at some point or another. Taming the tongue can be a tricky job, and it takes a lot of practice! Even so, when you focus on giving grace, listening more, examining your own motives, saying nothing when necessary, and really watching the words that do come out, your moments of regret will hopefully be far and few between!
P.S. If taming the tongue is something you really struggle with, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Karen Ehman’s book, Keep it Shut. From one chatterbox to another, she offers solid, practical advice that you can implement right away!
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How do you keep your words in check?