We Must Think Before We Speak

During the 2016 NBA Finals, a player’s wife, understandably hurting and upset for her husband who had just been ejected from a game, fired out a tweet from her seat in the arena accusing the NBA of being rigged and out to get her husband for the sake of ratings. An hour and a half later, she deleted the tweet and apologized, but the damage had already been done. With 450,000 followers on Twitter, she had already seen her unfortunate tweet retweeted thousands of times, and the backlash had begun.

Weeks later, her apologies continued: “I was just a fan in that moment so I didn’t think about the ramifications. I regret the way that I voiced how hurt I was. I felt hurt for [my husband], and I didn’t mean to offend anybody. Obviously, what I wrote is not what I think about what he does for a living.”

Unfortunately, this NBA wife is far from alone. With every sunrise we are given plenty of new examples of people “hitting Send” and soon regretting it, including Connor Riley, who was offered a job with the tech giant Cisco. “She tweeted: ‘Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.’ Shortly after that, there was a reply from Cisco employee Tim Levad: ‘Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the Web.’”

Recently Justine Sacco boarded a plane for Africa and tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” When she de-boarded she learned that tweet went viral, the outcome of which her employer fired her and she underwent unthinkable hostility. A friend of hers, Jeff Bercovici, who writes for Forbes, acknowledged the stupidity of the tweet but said he and countless others interpreted the tweet to mean that she was mocking white privilege and indifference about AIDS. Even so he wrote, “Because it’s in real-time, we shoot from the hip, pushing ‘Tweet’ without taking a moment to self-edit, lest we miss the moment. Because it’s short-form, we leave out context that might make our meaning clear.”

When will we learn? Social media means what it says: it is social! Our methods of communication today allow for the potential to be broadcast to everyone from Pekin, Illinois, to Peking, China. But it’s not only Twitter fanatics who can find themselves in trouble. Every single one of us is capable of falling prey, especially with e-mail. To prevent this, author Seth Godin has a checklist he goes through before hitting Send in an e-mail. Here are several of the questions he asks himself:

  • Am I angry? (If so, save as draft and come back to the note in one hour).
  • Could I do this note better with a phone call?
  • Am I blind-ccing my boss? If so, what will happen if the recipient finds out?
  • Is there anything in this email I don’t want the attorney general, the media or my boss seeing? (If so, hit delete).

Seth Godin is not alone in his recognition of needing a checklist. The most gifted communicators have checklists! The most talented writers and speakers coach themselves daily on thinking before speaking. William Arthur Ward proclaimed, “Before you speak, listen. Before you write, think.”

What about you?

– Dr. E


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