Scripture dictates a few rules about speaking. On Sinai, God gave two commandments regarding words: We are not to take the name of God in vain and we are not to bear false witness. Jesus says we are not to make oaths to attest to the truth of what we are saying but to let our yes mean yes and our no mean no (Matthew 5:37). James warns against cursing and urges controlling the tongue, which he calls, “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8)! As someone who has often engaged in conversations, I would like to offer a few additional rules that can make communications go more smoothly and prevent hard feelings. These are along the order of the suggestion that before speaking we should ask ourselves: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”
1. Look at the speaker. You may know how annoying it is when someone you are talking to looks beyond you to see if there is a more interesting person around. I’ve found it especially affirming when someone looks directly into my eyes when I’m talking to him or her.
2. When someone introduces a topic, avoid cutting off the speaker and stealing his or her fire, particularly if that person is more knowledgeable about the topic than you.
3. Similarly, when someone asks another person a question, resist answering for that person no matter how tempting it may be.
4. When a speaker makes a misstatement, you might overlook it if it isn’t important, so as not to embarrass him or her.
5. Do not ramble on and on, adding detail after detail so that others so not have a chance to contribute or may be put to sleep. Monologues are not dialogues.
6. Ask others questions to draw them into the conversation. They just might be waiting to be asked their opinion.
7. Speak loudly and clearly so that all listeners can understand you without straining their ears.
8. Give your full attention to others. Stop what you’re doing. Ignore your cell phone.
9. Speak of positive things, not tragedies (like fires, homicides, and wars) or frustrating political situations. Likewise do not share bad things that happened to you (unless they’re funny). Bringing up negative things drags people’s spirits down.
10. Avoid complaining and criticizing, which tend to result in people adding their complaints and criticisms until a heavy fog hangs over the room.
11. Do not interrupt other speakers. They may lose their train of thought. And you will come across as rude.
12. Vary your topics instead of making your comments and stories all about yourself.
13. As someone talks, occasionally nod or say, “yes” or “I agree.” This will not only show you are listening but will affirm the speaker.
14. Prepare for a conversation by having things to say. Once I traveled with a salesman who had slips of paper that contained interesting information for sharing.
15. Finally, some unknown person said, “Great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about other people.”
Taking these tips to heart, you will find that others will enjoy being with you and talking to you.
This blog is not the final word on speaking well. What tips can you pass on here?
Speaking of speaking, I’ve written a book (“Me? Talk in Public?”) with suggestions for speaking to a group, which is the #1 human fear. You (or someone you know) might find it helpful if you ever need to give a witness talk, make a report to the parish, lead a bible study, or give a eulogy. The book is on Amazon, but can be purchased directly from me at [email protected] for $7.00.