5 Questions to Ask Before You Say Anything to Anyone

How many times have you said something to someone (maybe a staff member or a customer or a vendor) and then thought, “I shouldn’t have said that. I wish I could take it back?”

“How could you be so stupid”
“What were you thinking?”
“A monkey could do a better job than you’re doing.”
“You’re the laziest (or dumbest or most incompetent or ______) that I know.”

Unfortunately, as you know, there are no do-overs in communication. Once we’ve said something, it’s out there. We can’t reel it back in (no matter how hard we try).

And the cost of those words is often incalculable. We often end up spending a lot of time having to restore the relationship  The employee (or whomever the other person you said the wrong thing to) is less productive afterwards (often for days/weeks). Other people in our work environments often get dragged into the conflict. Customers are often affected. Sales are sometimes lost. Productivity across the organization takes a hit, etc. And all of that happened because we, the leader/boss/owner, didn’t take the time to T.H.I.N.K. before we spoke.

So, if you’d like to avoid all that wasted time, sub-optimal productivity and lost revenue, here’s a simple acrostic I learned years ago that will remind you to ask five simple questions before you say anything to anyone. Ask these five questions and you’ll avoid all of the problems listed above. Avoid them and you’ll be costing yourself a lot of pain, productivity, progress and profit.

The five questions form the acrostic T.H.I.N.K. (i.e. we should think before we speak). Note: Even if you’re familiar with this acrostic, don’t rush past these five questions. Why? Because they’re violated all the time—frequently by people who “know” them

1. Is this True?

In other words, before you say something, you always want to challenge your initial thought with the single most important question to ask yourself about any belief/idea, “Is this true?” which should then be immediately followed up with, “And how do I know that what I believe to be true is true?”

  • Is it because you personally observed the behavior?
  • Or because “someone” told you that this person did X?
  • Were you transferring a belief onto someone because you have a preconceived notion about that person and about how they act or behave?
  • Were you projecting something from yourself on to them?
  • Is it true that a monkey could do a better job?
  • Are they really the most incompetent person you’ve ever met?
  • Do that ALWAYS do that?
  • Have you actually done your due diligence and checked the facts before speaking to them?

You and I have been doing this too long to know that there are almost always two sides to every issue. So, have you heard the other side?

One of the great lessons I learned in my former career as a senior pastor was, “Never assume the first side you hear is the truth?” Nor should you and I ever assume that what we believe to be true is actually true simply because we think it. All of us have perception bias.

Just think about this, how many times have you believed something to be true only to later discover that you were wrong?

As you hear me say often, humility is good for the soul. Don’t say anything until you know that it’s passed through the “Is it true?” test.

2. Is it Helpful?

The second question is focused more on the person than the event. In other words, just because something is true, doesn’t mean it will be, by definition, helpful for the person to know that information.

For example, let’s say that Jay blew a customer service encounter because he was flat-out rude to a customer. And let’s assume you observed the behavior so you know it’s true. But is it helpful to call Jay “a terrible, horrible, no good, very-bad, miserable, incompetent a*#”? Probably not.

  • Is it helpful to call him a name?
  • Is it helpful to make an indictment on his entire character?
  • Is it helpful to say this in front of his co-workers?

Probably not, which is why asking the question, “Is this helpful?” is so important.

Even if the statement you want to make is correct, “Jay you’ve been the worst perfuming sales person in the history of our company,” you still might not want to say that after you ask “Is this helpful?” Clearly, Jay needs to improve his performance. But is it really helpful for him to know that he’s the worst performing sales person in the history of your company? Probably not.

Note: You might want to inform Jay of his relative performance if you think it will help him—but not because you want to make Jay feel bad or you want to take your frustration out on him.

3. Is it Inspiring?

I love this third question because it gets to the motivational basis of change. It forces us as leaders to remember that we have a responsibility to motivate and inspire the people whom we lead so that they can perform at their best.

Think of it this way. If you wanted to make sure that everything you say to your people will inspire them to perform better, would you ever say something that would demotivate them?  Would you ever berate them? Or dis them in front of their peers? Would you ever yell at them or indict their entire character on the basis of a poor choice they made? Never.

Just think of how much trouble you could avoid if you regularly just asked this one question, “Is this inspiring?”

Note: This doesn’t mean you can’t be the bearer of bad news or that you can’t critique someone’s performance. It simply means that you’ll stop long enough to rethink what you want to say in order that it’ll produce the result you want to see in them (i.e. a better them).

Inspiration isn’t just rah-rah. To inspire means to “breath life into” someone. Which means that if someone on your team isn’t performing well—and you can help correct that behavior by helping them see the error of their ways (along with how to alleviate that error) in a way that doesn’t demean them as a person but encourages them to be more successful—who wouldn’t want that?

4. Is it Necessary?

In other words, something you might want to say could be true, but it might not be necessary for you to say it.

For example, let’s say that Josephine did something terribly wrong. And when I say, terribly, I mean terribly. But let’s say that Josephine knows she screwed up terribly and feels miserable about it. Is it really necessary to address it? Or is this one of those times where you know you don’t need to say anything because you know how bad she feels?

Or let’s say that Franklin blew it and did 23 things wrong on a sales call. Is it really necessary to go through all 23 things that he did incorrectly? Maybe. But maybe not. Simply, asking the question, “Is this necessary?” will often cause us to stop long enough to make a more rational choice and realize that rarely do we need to tell anyone everything they did wrong.

5. Is it Kind?

How about that for a great leader question?  Is what you want to say kind?

Even if you think it might be helpful or necessary to inform Jay that he’s your worst performing sale rep in the history of your company, is that kind?

In my book on Breaking Through Plateaus (which looks at 10 culture drivers of fast growth companies), chapter 10 is on love. Why? Because great companies are run by leaders who love their people (along with their customers, products, services, etc.).

Unfortunately, way too many TV shows and movies portray great leaders as jerks who are frequently harsh on their teams. However, in the real world, those tactics don’t work in the long-term, nor do they produce the best performers, nor do they produce people who will “walk across glass” for their leaders.

Great leaders love their people. So, before they say anything, make sure you pass your words through the kind filter (“Is this kind?”). If not, discard. If yes, feel free to pass along.

So, there you have it. Five simple questions that will help you T.H.I.N.K before you speak (and save you a whole lot of lost time, relational capital, productivity and profits).

  1. Is it TRUE?
  2. Is if HELPFUL?
  3. Is it INSPIRING?
  4. Is it NECESSARY?
  5. Is it KIND?

Master these five questions, use them all the time and you’ll quickly discover that you’re the kind of leader people will give their  best performance for!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have any other questions or ideas about how to make sure you only say the right things to your people, make sure you add them to the conversation in the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email or RSS)

Flickr photo courtesy of Cayusa

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