4 Ways to Think Before You Speak

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A few years ago at work, we had the option to take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, which is basically a personality test that identifies key traits such as extroversion or introversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, and judging (this is more about order and preference for having things settled) and perception.

We took the written test, and then had an in-person working session to learn about the key traits and what they mean. The purpose was for us to better understand the point of view we’re coming from and our working style so we can collaborate better overall. I wasn’t shocked to learn I was an introvert (and mind you introvert is not synonymous with shy) because I’ve always preferred my alone time, and I’m never the first one to say what’s on my mind. I like to do some information gathering, mull over it in my head, make an informed opinion and then present it.

I was a bit nervous, however, looking at the room full of extroverts around me. My company as a whole is dominated by extroverts, which can make things like brainstorms and general work styles pretty exhausting for those who prefer to internalize and organize thoughts. I’ve made do, though, and have become more comfortable with the idea of throwing things out there and seeing what sticks.

But, that doesn’t mean I don’t think there are inherent benefits to the introverted working style either. Last night’s practice with Jenniferlyn was all about the four gates to speech. Words are so powerful, and these four gates provide a simple guide that can make all the difference to the person on the receiving end. Before speaking, you can ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. Is what you’re about to say true?
  2. Is it helpful to this person?
  3. Is it even necessary to say?
  4. Is it kind?

In particular, I like the last two questions because sometimes what we end up saying doesn’t actually need to be said. And when there are times something needs to be said, it can be said in a kind, rather than accusatory way.

What do you think about this kind of filter? Is it helpful? Do you think it’s missing something?

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4 responses »

  1. It would be interesting to see these four gates applied as a management technique. It is too easy to give criticism without regard to what the goal of that criticism is. Are you giving the criticism to try to help the person or will it merely seem like a declaration of your own status and superiority? Taking the former angle/approach when giving criticism would likely enhance the other person’s opinion of you while also helping them to understand what they did wrong and how they can fix it in the future. If criticism was true, helpful, necessary, and kind, I think it would go a long way.

  2. I have thought about this for some time now, and sure will continue to do so in the future. This reminds me of the Noble Eight-Fold Path in Buddhism – Skillful Speech. The ideas are similar.

    “1. Is what you’re about to say true?”

    This may not work for everyone or every situation, depending on what your goals are. It may be more helpful to think of this like

    “Will what I’m about to say communicate truth?”

    This allows one to joke. The former may not. It may also allow us to answer questions which may not seem valid to us, but give the questioner a meaningful answer.

    “How are you?” I find a particularly difficult question to answer truthfully. The truth is that I don’t know, often I am neither up nor down. Even more often I answer the question with “what do you mean?” and this sometimes is unhelpful. Perhaps the answer is simply “I am well”, even though I do not fundamentally, and whole heartedly believe there is anything that can be more or less well than anything else.

    Still, these are thoughts in progress. I hope you may find some insights from them.

    • Thanks for your thoughts here! I definitely agree that all of these gates have exceptions to the rule like most everything. I think number one in particular is most helpful when thinking about approaching someone with constructive criticism, or if you are in a debate with someone about beliefs (those discussions can easily get out of hand because everyone wants to think their beliefs are truth — to them, they are!).

  3. The Myers-Briggs is always a great eye-opener. One great piece of advice that I learned from the manager who had us do the test is to always try to remember compassion when giving what she called “the gift of feedback.” I don’t always accomplish that higher goal, but I think it’s a goal worth remembering.

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