My Grandma had a few favourite phrases, one of which was, “if you haven’t got anything nice to say then it’s best to say nothing at all”. She was a very wise lady and in the current business environment there are a quite a few people who could do worse than heed her sagely advice…
I was reminded of her counsel when scrolling through my LinkedIn feed a few days ago and came across a short piece by Anurag Batra who is Chairman & Editor in Chief at BW Businessworld. The headline was simply:
WHEN TO BE SILENT!!!
Anurag then went on to list 5 situations when it’s preferable to bite your tongue and I have added my own explanations :
1. Be silent – in the heat of anger
Suffice to say that the majority of us have, at some stage, lost our cool and lashed out. And we all know that it seldom ends well when we allow our anger to brim over. When the red mist descends it takes away all our rational thought and we will most likely say something that we will later regret. Or can be used against us. Maintaining a level of decorum is always advisable, even when faced with the most extreme provocation. I only wish I could take my own advice…
2. Be silent – when you don’t have all the facts
Humans don’t tend to like silence. It makes them feel awkward and uncomfortable so they have a tendency to try and fill in the gaps. Often struggling to find something to say they will occasionally try to manufacture something built on scraps of information and piece it together like some kind of verbal Frankenstein. Best case scenario? You look like a bit of an idiot. Worst case scenario? People mentally log the bull***t you were peddling and use it against you. My advice? Practice becoming comfortable with those moments of silence and learn that sometimes an elongated pause can be even more powerful than the spoken word.
3. Be silent – when you haven’t verified the story
It’s all too easy to jump to conclusions based upon limited information and it happens each and every day in business. Peoples reputations can be trashed based on the loose talk of individuals with nothing better to say, so that they simply pass on rumour or supposition. Simple solution? If you don’t have any proof then don’t pass it on.
4. Be silent – if your words will offend a weaker person
Words can be used as weapons by less scrupulous colleagues and can be used to bully others. It starts in the playground and ends up in the boardroom. Once a bully, always a bully. Over the years I have witnessed it happen to others and, a few times, have even been on the receiving end myself. It always surprises me how bitchy people can be in a supposedly professional environment. Vindictive comments about another persons dress sense, hair style, work performance etc. should be eradicated but sadly still exist. If it is you dealing it out, shame on you.
5. Be silent – when it is time to listen
My old boss, the late / great Ray Sale had a favourite expression that he was very fond of expressing: “you have two ears and one mouth, try to use them in that ratio”. On average, he said that to me at least once a week. At the time it used to really irritate me but hindsight is a wonderful thing and on reflection he was probably right. Actually, let’s take out the probably. The younger version of me used to talk way too much and I had to practice listening. And the funny thing is, I’ve since realised that the more you listen, the more you really hear and ultimately the more you comprehend. Thanks Ray. I didn’t get it at the time but I sure do now…
On top of the listicle provided by Anurag, I’ve also taken the liberty of adding a couple of my own to his rather excellent top 5:
Be silent – when you are boring people – now this takes a little self-awareness because it’s clear to me that some people don’t have the gene that recognises when someone else is switching off to what they are saying. The telltale signs of fidgeting, yawning and rolling their eyes are often giveaways yet some people can’t detect the signs. I always think that it’s a little bit like going out on a date. If you end up doing all the talking then it’s pretty much a guarantee that it won’t result in a second…
Be silent – when you’ve asked a question – I always find it somewhat perplexing when I have been asked a question and then the person who asked it then immediately dives in to reply before I have finished my answer. Every time it happens it makes me wonder why they even bothered asking the question in the first place if they didn’t want to hear the response. My POV? It’s simply a matter of manners to wait until the person has responded to your query rather than talking over them.
I’ve explored this theme before in an article I penned entitled “Shut up – why talking too much can damage your career” so it’s clear that this is a topic that’s close to my heart and I’ve made it abundantly clear which side of the fence that I sit on. So I’m interested to hear if you agree with me but am even more fascinated if you have a counterpoint and believe that there are situations where you should never be silent. As ever, I am keen to hear your POV.
Oh and can I apologise for using a Ronan Keating song as the inspiration for the title of this piece but I simply couldn’t find a Guns & Roses track title that would fit the bill no matter how hard I tried. The RK title may work well for the piece but quoting the ex-Boyzone singer will be forever to my eternal shame…