In my book Before You Hit Send, I quote a woman who said, “You know that little thing in the back of your brain that tells you not to say something before you say it? Well, I don’t have that little thing.“
I suppose all of us wonder occasionally if we lack that little thing in the back of our brains. We know that we are to think before we speak, but we end up saying something that we should not say.
The good news is that we all have that little thing in the back of our brain, but we just need to remember to ask ourselves four questions before we communicate. And by communicate I mean not just by emails, texts, or social media, but by over-the-phone talking and face-to-face discussions.
These four questions serve as a checklist. And after going through the entire checklist, if we can answer all four in the affirmative, then it is okay to speak up.
But if we cannot answer all four of them with a confident and resounding “yes,” we need to refrain from communicating at this time.
We did significant research and found out that these four things are all distinct, like four legs on the table. All four must be present in order for us to be a stable and credible communicator. If one of them is missing, the communication will cause people to get the wrong idea, not the right idea. In time, we undermine our credibility and reputation not only as a communicator but as a person.
But the book not only lists the four checklist items and encourages us to ask them concerning everything we communicate; it also delves into the reasons why we would not let these four ideas govern our communication. For instance, one of the points on the checklist is that we must communicate what is true. But of course, we all know that we are to communicate what is true. However, we don’t always do that, do we? So, why would we communicate what is untrue? Why would we not tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help us God, as the courts demand?
Let me illustrate this between a husband and wife who are trying to budget.
A wife asks her husband how much he spent on the tools he just bought. He knows he should tell her the whole truth, that he spent three hundred dollars. But he knows he spent over the budget—to which both had agreed they would not do. However, he doesn’t like marital conflict. He fears conflict. He doesn’t like to upset his wife. He wants to keep the peace so he hedges on the truth. From his lips he hears himself saying he spent one hundred dollars, when he knows for a fact he spent three hundred. He hit Send, so to speak, on a message to his wife that wasn’t the whole truth.
The same thing can happen with the wife. Having agreed to a budget, she knows she ought not to overspend when shopping for clothes. However, she comes across several dresses on sale at unbelievable prices. She buys them. Later, her husband asks how much she spent on the new dresses she just bought. She knows that she should tell the whole truth, that she spent three hundred dollars. But she knows that is over the budget and because she does not like to get into a fight with him or for him to get mad at her she tells him she spent one hundred dollars. As a peacemaker who wants to avoid conflict with her husband, she hedges on the truth. She is fearful of the consequences. So, she hits Send on a message that is not true.
So why did this husband and wife hedge on the truth? They are fearful of the consequences of the truth, which to them is marital conflict. Peacemakers at heart, they compromise the truth. Of course, long term this makes things worse, and we all know this.
In the end, they will not be able to rationalize their untrue communication under the umbrella of keeping the peace in the family. It doesn’t keep the peace.
In my book Before You Hit Send, I explain twenty reasons why we end up hedging on the truth. We can be people with goodwill but we end up compromising the truth and undermining our credibility as a communicator and person. In the case of this husband and wife, when the truth later comes out, they appear to lack integrity as people. It’s no longer just a matter of overspending; it’s now a question about character.
This is how good folks get themselves in trouble.
In this book I give four major questions we need to ask ourselves before we speak. Is what I am about to communicate True? Kind? Necessary? Clear? And under each of these four I give twenty reasons why we might intentionally choose not to do this item on the checklist. Though our hearts can be in the right place, we wrongly hit Send on a message—which can be face to face, over the phone, or in writing.