How to Think Before Speaking

Thinking before you speak is an important skill to master for all kinds of situations. It can improve your relationships with other people and enable you to express yourself in a more effective way. Start by using the THINK acronym to decide if what you have to say is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, or Kind. Then, look for ways to choose your words more carefully, such as by pausing and asking for clarification. You can also think before you speak by using thoughtful communication strategies, such as adopting open body language and focusing on making 1 point at a time. With a little practice, thinking before you speak will eventually become second nature to you.

Method 1Method 1 of 3:Using THINK to Filter What You Say

  1. 1Determine if what you want to say is True. Reflect on what you are about to say and ask yourself if it’s the truth. Don’t make something up just to have something to say and don’t speak if you’re about to tell a lie. If you need to respond with something, at least modify what you’re about to say so that it is the truth.[1]
    • For example, if someone asks, “How are you today?” and you’re about to respond with something that’s not true, stop yourself and tell the truth instead.
    • Or, if you’re telling someone how well you did on your math test and you’re about to exaggerate, reel yourself in and be honest about your grade instead.
  2. 2Say something if it’s Helpful or stay silent if it’s not. Speaking up can be beneficial to other people if you have something to say that might be helpful to them, so if this is the case, go ahead and speak up.[2] On the other hand, saying something hurtful can harm your relationships with other people, so it’s best to remain silent if you’re considering saying something hurtful to someone.[3]
    • For example, if you’re watching a friend play a video game and you have a tip that might help them overcome a difficult level, this could be helpful to them and it’s okay to say it.
    • However, if you’re watching a friend struggle to overcome a level on a video game and you are about to mock them for that, don’t say anything.
    • Be aware that saying something hurtful isn’t the same as conveying an unpleasant truth, which might be meant to help someone. For example, if you are giving someone constructive criticism, then this can be helpful.
  3. 3Identify whether your comment might be Inspiring to other people. Saying something that will inspire, encourage, or uplift other people is always good to do. If you are about to pay someone a compliment, encourage them to keep working towards a goal, or tell them a story that might inspire them, do it![4]
    • For example, if you’re about to compliment a friend on their presentation, go ahead. This will make them feel good about themselves.
    Tip: In another variation of the THINK acronym, “I” stands for “illegal.” If what you’re considering saying to someone is “illegal,” don’t say it. This may include threatening them or making a discriminatory comment.[5]
  4. 4Speak if your comment is Necessary. Sometimes speaking up is necessary to prevent something bad from happening, such as issuing a warning or delivering an important message to someone. If this is the case, speak up. But if what you are about to say is unnecessary, then don’t speak.[6]
    • For example, if someone is about to walk out in front of oncoming traffic, speak up to warn them immediately.
    • Or, if your friend’s mom calls and asks you to tell them to call, tell your friend this as soon as you see them.
  5. 5Stop yourself from speaking if what you want to say is not Kind. Offering kind words to someone is another good way to determine if you should speak or not. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Consider if what you’re about to say is kind. If it is, go ahead and speak. If not, don’t say anything.[7]
    • For example, if your friend shows up to your house wearing a flamboyant hat and dress, either pay them a compliment on their fashionable look if you think it looks good, or don’t say anything at all if you’re not a fan of the ensemble.
    Tip: If what you want to say passes the THINK test, say it! However, if it fails to meet the criteria of any of the letters, then revise what you were going to say or don’t say anything.

Method 2Method 2 of 3:Choosing Your Words More Carefully

  1. 1Listen carefully if you’re having a conversation with someone. Listen when someone else is talking and give them your full attention. Focusing intently on the other person’s words will help you to respond in a more thoughtful manner when they are finished talking.[8]
    • For example, if someone is telling a story about their weekend, give them your full attention so that you can ask them questions about it and comment sincerely on what they said.
    • Don’t focus on what you want to say next while the other person is talking. You won’t really be listening to them if you do this and you might respond with something that doesn’t relate to what they were just saying.
  2. 2Pause for a minute if you find yourself saying “um” or “uh. If you notice that you’re doing a lot of umming and uh-hing, this usually indicates that you’re unsure of what to say next and you’re thinking out loud. If this happens, close your mouth and pause for a minute. Take the time to think about what you want to say before you continue.[9]
    • It’s fine to simply say, “I need a minute to think about that,” if someone asks you a question.
    Tip: If you’re giving a presentation or talking with someone and need a longer pause, take a drink of water to give yourself some extra time to think.
  3. 3Clarify what the other person has just said by asking a question. If you’re having a conversation with someone and unsure of how to respond to something they just said, ask them to clarify for you. Rephrase the statement they just made or the question they just asked and check to see if you’re understanding them correctly.[10]
    • For example, you could say something like, “What did you mean when you said you didn’t like the movie’s structure?”
    • Or, you could say something like, “It sounds like you’re saying you want to go home because you aren’t feeling well. Is that right?”
    • This tip can also be used to pass time to think.
  4. 4Take a few deep breaths or excuse yourself in tense situations. If you’re in the midst of an argument or heated conversation with someone or if you’re just feeling nervous about speaking, taking a few deep breaths is a good way to calm yourself down, collect your thoughts, and buy yourself a little extra time to think. Take a long, slow breath in through your nose to the count of 4, then hold it for 4 seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth to the count of 4.[11]
    • If you need a longer break to calm yourself down, try excusing yourself to use the restroom or take a quick walk around the block.

Method 3Method 3 of 3:Using Thoughtful Communication Strategies

  1. 1Stay focused on the conversation by avoiding distractions. It’ll be easier for you to think before you speak if you aren’t constantly looking at your phone, TV, or computer. Put away or turn off anything that might distract you from the person you’re speaking with and focus all of your attention on them.[12]
    • It’s fine to pause to remove distractions. Try saying something like, “Hang on one minute. I just want to turn off the TV so I can give you my full attention.”
  2. 2Demonstrate that you’re listening by using open body language. Adopting open body language can help you to communicate with someone in a more thoughtful manner. Become more aware of how you’re sitting or standing when you talk with other people. Some things you can do to improve your body language include:[13]
    • Facing towards the person rather than angling your body away from them.
    • Keeping your arms loose and at your sides instead of crossing them over your chest.
    • Make eye contact with the person you’re talking to. Avoid staring off into the distance or looking around the room as this will send the message that you’re not paying attention.
    • Keeping your expression neutral, such as by smiling slightly and relaxing your eyebrows.
    Tip: You can also lean in towards the person to show your interest in what they have to say. Leaning back or away from them will do just the opposite and send the message that you’re not interested.
  3. 3Make 1 point at a time and offer additional information only if needed. If you tend to ramble or throw lots of information at people at one time, try to focus on making 1 point and supporting it with an example if needed. Then, pause for a minute to allow the other person to speak or ask questions and make another point or offer additional information if needed.[14]
    • For example, if someone asks you about your day, you might start by saying that it was good and list one good thing that happened instead of launching into a full recall of your day.
    • Or, if you’re debating politics with someone, you could begin by offering your strongest point and its supporting evidence instead of listing off every reason why you hold the view that you do.
  4. 4Summarize what you have said if needed and then be silent. After you finish saying what you have to say, it’s fine to simply stop talking. There’s no need to fill the silence with more words if you don’t have anything else to say. If you feel the need for some kind of conclusion, briefly summarize what you just said and then stop talking.[15]
    • For example, you might say something like, “So basically, I had a very pleasant trip to Florida and I plan to go again next year.”
    • However, it’s also okay to end a story without summarizing it. When you’re done telling the story, it’s fine to just stop speaking.

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