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Speak Your Mind? Maybe Not-Here's How to Decide By Pauline Wallin, Ph.D.

NOTE TO SELF: "Engage brain before putting mouth into gear."

I couldn't find the origin of this saying, but it ranks in my top ten instructions for successful living. It's just another way of saying, "Think before you speak," but it sounds much more important.

When your mouth gets moving before your brain is engaged, your inner brat is unfettered. There is no filter to prevent you from saying things you might later regret.

Here are some risks of speaking without thinking:

- You might hurt/alarm/offend others, intentionally or not

- You might regret betraying secrets and confidences

- You might lose the advantage while negotiating

- You might lose respect from others

- Your reputation might suffer long-term damage

- You might lose your chance for a date, for a job or for a promotion

- You might get into trouble with the law

- You can't take back what you said

If speaking mindlessly is so potentially destructive, why do people do it? There are a number of reasons:

1. To get attention: Spreading gossip or saying something outrageous puts you in the limelight for 15 seconds. But you may pay a high price to pay for those 15 seconds - lost trust and hurt feelings.

2. To prove something; to win an argument: If you are too intent on winning, you'll miss opportunities to find a solution or compromise. You may have the last word, but you won't have constructive results.

3. To get something off your chest or to let off steam: When someone ticks you off, it may feel satisfying to give him a piece of your mind. But later you'll realize that it was the wrong piece.

All it takes to make sure that the words you speak now won't bite you in the you-know-where later on, is to pay attention and think. Are these words coming from you? Or from your inner brat? Is there more potential harm than benefit from saying these words?

It's not always easy to ignore your inner brat's urge to blurt things out. But one thing for sure - you won't regret it.

-- Copyright Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. 2005. All rights reserved.

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