Think Before You Speak…Always

Before you open your mouth, it is unbelievably important to think about how your message could be perceived – particularly in the business world. I learned this one the hard way.

At the ambitious age of 22, in my first month working at a small non-profit, I was happily pitching in to help with the annual office cleaning day. My employer had assigned me the illustrious task of reorganizing the mountain of printer paper styles and colors stacked haphazardly in the copier room.

After easily knocking out the color coding assignment, I eagerly moved on to my next challenge: categorizing the corporate stationery. In the process, I found a stack of letterhead with our most recent board chair’s name on the corner. Since I knew she was no longer the chair, I logically put it in a separate pile to throw away. I didn’t have permission to toss anything without asking so, WITHOUT THINKING, I said, “should I throw away all the letterhead with Deborah’s name on it?”

You could hear a pin drop as everyone within earshot stopped what they were doing and just stared at me, holding their breath. Within seconds, I remembered that during my orientation, the HR director had told me of the recent, unexpected death of their 56-year-old board chair just months before I started my new job.

You can imagine my overwhelming desire to reverse time and take back what I had insensitively blurted out. But it was too late. The damage was done. That move set me back big time in the eyes of a few key staff members who had known Deborah well. I’m still not certain they ever forgave me for my mistake; and unfortunately, the word “disrespectful” became a description of me for quite a while.

So if you’re naturally a think-as-you-talk person like me, I encourage you to slow down and listen to your words before they come out of your mouth. You’ll be shocked how often you change your approach when you’re conscious of how it might be received by others.

Note: The names in this story were changed.

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