A long time ago, in a workplace far away, there was a poster taped above my workbench. It read, “Engage brain before putting mouth in gear.” I choose to believe that the poster wasn’t put there specifically for me, by the way.
Can we control when we “put our mouths in gear,” so to speak? If you read my columns regularly, then you know that choice theory says we can only control our own behaviour, not that of others. But can we even control our own behaviour?
Marsha says whatever is on her mind. She’s been told that she is rude. She’s been kicked out of classes, not invited to parties, and had conflicts with authorities. In Marsha’s perception, her trouble is that she is “too honest.”
The most recent incident came at work. Admittedly, her supervisor made a poor decision. Marsha blurted out, “You are so stupid. I can’t believe you’re still the boss here.”
Not surprisingly, Marsha was suspended. It’s not the first time.
Marsha’s position is, “I can’t help it if I tell the truth. There is nothing wrong with that.”
Self-evaluation is a core piece of choice theory. To self-evaluate means that each of us figures out, for ourselves, how effectively our behaviours work for us.
So while Marsha is sitting at home during her suspension not earning any money, she could ponder this question. “How well did insulting your supervisor work for you, Marsha?”
Of course, Marsha knows that the insult was not helpful. She protests, “But I was just being honest.”
Marsha, can continue to perceive her behaviour as honesty. Her own self-evaluation, however, shows her that other people do not perceive it as helpful honesty, but as disrespectful, unpleasant, and rude.
The next question for Marsha is, “How do you want your life to be?” She’s never managed to maintain a long-term friendship; now she is in real danger of losing her job. Does this behaviour get you closer to the life you want?
If Marsha decides that she does want to make a change, what behaviours would be more effective? Yes, this is where the poster comes in: Engage brain before putting mouth in gear. We may not be able to control what pops into our minds, however, we can control how much of that comes out of our mouths!
There’s no need to share all of your innermost thoughts. If you think you can’t help yourself, try visualizing your thoughts as a stream of traffic. Traffic needs to be separated or there’ll be crashes. Direct your internal “traffic” to separate the thoughts you choose to share from the thoughts you keep to yourself.
Some observations are never helpful. Among them are, “That was dumb;” “Oh, shut up!” or, “Wow, you look bad today.”
Anyone can benefit from thinking before speaking. One helpful gauge is: “Will my comment make this relationship better or worse?” If it’s an unpleasant comment, consider, “Might there be a more effective way to make my point?”
Do you know anyone who says everything that pops into their head? How do you view that behaviour?