How to Tame a Wild Tongue
You may have a habit of saying whatever comes to mind, and making others mad or hurting their feelings without even meaning to. Or perhaps, the problem isn’t your wild tongue, but someone else that you know and care about. Whether it’s you or someone else that needs to control what they say, learning to think about what is said and the impact of a wild tongue can help tame it.
Learning Verbal Control
Calm down.Some people have a tendency to put their foot in their mouth when they are nervous. In fact, research indicates that you are more likely to make a verbal faux pas (false step) if you are already in an extremely stressful situation.Calming down can help you control your wild tongue.
- If nervousness makes you say things that you later regret, then take a few deep breaths to help yourself calm down.
- Visualize the encounter going well. Picture how calm you will be and in control of yourself and your tongue.
Take ten.Pause for 10 seconds before you speak to give yourself time to think about whether what you are saying is a good idea.If it still seems like a good idea to speak after these 10 seconds, then go ahead. Taking ten also allows the conversation to continue without your comment, possibly making your rude remark irrelevant by that time.
- Sometimes the person is waiting on your response, and 10 seconds can make for an awkward pause. At least take three seconds to consider your words before you respond.
- Take the time to think about something else more appropriate that you could say instead.
- Remember to take a 10-second pause before you post, comment or reply to things online.Make sure what you are posting isn’t something that you might regret later.
Consider the consequences.Take a moment to think about the effect your words could have on the other person and on the situation in general.Tap into your empathy and ask yourself, "How would I feel if someone said this to me?", or, "What feelings is this comment likely to bring up for the other person?" Realizing the embarrassment and damage you can cause with your words is one way you can learn to hold them in.
- Remember that words can hurt and even though they forgive you, people remember how you make them feel. The person might not say anything right then, but it could damage your relationship with him.
- Do you really want to upset the other person? If so, why? Even if someone has made you mad, hurting him with your words is not the way to address the situation. It could actually escalate the problem.
- Negativity breeds more negativity, and there’s very little to gain when you complain or tear someone else down.
Think it, don’t say it.Everyone, at one time or another, has thought something negative or mean about someone or a situation. It’s natural. You can think whatever you want; problems only start once the thoughts become words that hurt other people. Control your tongue by thinking what you want, but saying only what is appropriate.
- Stand by the advice, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
- If you can’t think of anything positive to say, then just smile politely, nod, and subtly change the subject.
- For example, if a friend tells you she had a makeover, and all you can think of to say is that she looks like a clown, don’t. Instead, smile, nod and say something like, “What made you want to change your look?”
Making Amends After an Incident
Acknowledge what you said.Even if it is just to yourself, admit that you said something out of line. Don’t just gloss over it and move on. Admitting that you should not have said what you did is the first step in making amends for your wild tongue.
- Think about what provoked your words and what you could have done differently.
- For example, you might think, “Wow, his attitude really rubbed me the wrong way. I felt defensive so I went off on him. I could have calmed down before I responded to him.”
- Don’t wait for someone else to correct you. Most people usually know when a comment they have made crossed the line before someone else points it out. Take responsibility for your words on your own.
- You might acknowledge your wrong by saying, “What I just said came out much harsher than I intended.”
Apologize immediately.If you know, or even think, that your comment was offensive, rude, or has hurt someone, you should sincerely say you are sorry as soon as possible.Apologizing right then will mean more to the people you offended than saying you’re sorry later.
- Acknowledge what you said and then immediately say something like, “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. I’m working on controlling my tongue, but there is no excuse for what I said. I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
- Depending on what was said and in what context, it may be most appropriate to take the person aside and apologize privately. Doing this also gives you the opportunity to explain more about what you said and why, as well as how you are working on taming your tongue.
- If your comment was made online toward a specific person, then delete it if possible and send the person a private message apologizing for your words.
Apologize publicly if needed.In situations where your words affect several people or are made known to a lot of people, you may need to offer a public apology. Not only does this make amends to the people your words hurt, it also helps tame your wild tongue by humbling you.
- For example, if you made a rude comment in front of a group of people, you should apologize to the group rather than each individual.
- It is appropriate to post a public apology for online comments that are offensive, especially when you know several people saw it.
Move forward from the incident.According to an old adage, you can’t un-ring a bell. Take time to sincerely apologize, think about what you did and why, how you can behave differently in the future, and then move on. Reflecting on the incident, apologizing, and then moving forward with what you have learned from the situation can help you to tame your tongue in future circumstances similar to this one.
- Make a goal to do better next time. Plan to reinstate the 10-second pause before comments until you feel that you are gauging the crowd better.
- Try to be especially cautious with what you say around that particular person or in similar situations for a little while.
Considering the Effects
Protect your career.Letting your tongue run wild and using profanity at work could cause you to be formally reprimanded or even fired.Think about your career future before you say whatever inappropriate thing comes to mind.
- When giving feedback, remember to sandwich one bit of criticism between two positive notes. For example, “I can tell you put a lot of effort in this. It would be even stronger if we add more here. That addition would demonstrate the great possibilities you introduce earlier.”
- In meetings or other group discussions, be sure to take your 10-second pause.
- Don’t let your guard down in the break room. Don’t let the informal setting unleash your wild tongue. You are still at work so avoid gossiping, putting others down, obscenities, etc.
Preserve your reputation.Studies suggest that people that use profanity, insults, and sarcasm a lot are seen as less intelligent, mature, and able to handle stressful situations.Think about what you want your reputation to be and make sure that your wild tongue doesn’t interfere with that. Say things that show your intelligence, maturity, and problem-solving skills.
Consider your relationships.Some of the things you say when your tongue is running wild could be upsetting your loved ones or making your significant other question whether she wants to stay together. Thinking about the effects of your words and the fact that you could be jeopardizing your relationships will help you tame your tongue.
- For example, does your harsh tone and words make your partner feel that you don’t respect or care about her?
- Have family members told you that the things you say hurt their feelings?
- If you aren’t sure, ask your loved ones if and how your wild tongue is affecting them.
Making Long-Term Changes
Think about your motives.Figuring out why and when you have a wild tongue can help you to tame it by recognizing situations in which it is likely to happen. Think about why your first reaction is to say something rude or mean. Consider whether your tongue runs wild in certain situations or around particular people.
- Is it a natural reaction for you? Are you just not good at communication? Is this something you always have struggled with?
- Does being around a particular person or people cause your tongue to run wild? For example, does one annoying co-worker make you want to tell him off all the time?
- Are you seeking attention? Have you found that this is a way to get people to notice you — for better or worse?
- Does it happen more often when you are nervous, stressed, or defensive? For example, do you put your foot in your mouth when you are put on the spot or in an uncomfortable situation?
Limit alcohol and other substances that lower inhibitions.Sometimes being uninhibited by alcohol can cause us to say things we regret. Consider if alcohol is a factor in loosening your tongue and, if so, limit or completely avoid alcohol when you are in situations in which you are concerned about your wild tongue.
- For instance, if you know alcohol lowers your inhibitions enough to cause you to say things you later regret, it might be best to stick to just one drink at the company party, or having no drinks at all. This way you don't have to worry about saying something that might offend your boss or even get you fired.
Become a listener.Many people who continuously offend spend a lot of time talking and very little time listening. Tame your wild tongue by making a conscious choice to actually listen when someone is talking rather than thinking about what you can say in return.
- Listening to the person can give you hints as to what topics might be sensitive areas that you should avoid.
- Try asking the person an open-ended question in place of responding, such as, “What did you do then?” or “How are you feeling about that?”
Avoid sensitive topics.Take finances, race, romance, religion, politics, etc. off the table if you are speaking to people outside of a close-knit circle. These topics relate closely to people's beliefs and values. Your wild tongue can trigger anger and cause people to become extremely offended.
- If other people are talking about these things, then just remain out of the conversation. If possible, steer the conversation in another, safer, direction.
- If you absolutely must comment, then remember to take a 10-second pause to think about what you are saying and the impact it might have.
- Remember that some things said as a joke or sarcasm can be interpreted as discriminatory.
Video: Lecture: How to Tame a Wild Tongue - Gloria Anzaldúa
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