“Think before you speak.” It’s a maxim that’s been drilled into most of our heads since childhood, so why is it so difficult to actually put into action? I’ll admit, my natural tendency is to say what pops into my head first, but as I get older, I’m realizing how crucial it is to choose my words carefully. I think part of my wake-up call happened when I became a mom, since young kids interpret our words literally and often feel their weight in a way that we more easily brush off as adults. The other day, Phoebe was behaving uncharacteristically badly, and I made an exasperated remark that she wasn’t acting like my sweet little girl. Her face crumpled as big tears ran down her face, and she said between sobs, “But I am still your little girl!” It broke my heart to realize that my words had made her feel that my love was conditional, even if that wasn’t my intention.

So whether we’re communicating with our family, friends, or total strangers, how can we make sure that we’re using our words for good? I recently heard a quote (sometimes credited to Buddha, though seems like it’s been used by many wise teachers through the centuries) that provides a useful checklist we can go through when we’re considering what to say and — just as powerful — how to say it. By the way, these work when deciding what to post on social media, too. Keep scrolling for the four questions, and I’d love to hear in the comments if you guys have any tips for thinking before you speak!

featured image via adenorah

image via codi ann thomsen

Is it truthful?

While most of us wouldn’t intentionally tell a boldfaced lie, in order to be trustworthy and sincere, we need to watch out for the half-truths, implications, and exaggerations that can easily make their way into our speech. Besides, when you never tell a lie, you never have to worry about being caught in it.

image via johanna bradford

Is it necessary?

Something might be true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be said. Before speaking, think about whether your words will benefit or cause harm to others. If there’s no good foreseeable outcome, it probably doesn’t need to be said. In 2017, I’m resolving to be more purposeful with my speech and remember that both positivity and negativity are contagions.

image via flourishing

Is it timely?

Have you ever felt compelled to say something that you knew was true, but only later realized you probably should have chosen a different time to express it? This one can be really difficult because it requires insight into another person’s frame of mind, which comes from being fully present in our conversations so we can pick up on their verbal and physical cues. I’ve noticed that when I’m really listening, I’m much more likely to have the wisdom to know if I should bite my tongue and save a comment for later.

image via brandy melville

Is it kind?

Lately, I’ve noticed that when I soften my tone and even slightly change my choice of words to reflect kindness, a tense conversation can be instantly diffused. Often this comes from an internal shift in my own perspective; when I view the other person with compassion instead of judgement or defensiveness, it naturally comes through in the way I communicate with them.

And remember that sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all. Giving someone our undivided attention and really listening, instead of just thinking about what we’re going to say next, is the best gift we can give. Pausing before we speak, and asking ourselves these four simple questions, will make our communications more purposeful and positive.

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Comments (19)
  1. 1
    Rachael January 10, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Love this! Great things to think about before speaking, it would be great if everyone could do this 🙂

    Rachael xx.

  2. 2
    karen January 10, 2017 at 9:57 am

    Besides, when you never tell a lie, you never have to worry about being caught in it.

  3. 3
    Thays Dos Santos January 10, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Really loved this post! It is a great reminder of how we should communicate with one another.


  4. 4
    caleigh86 January 10, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Great advice!
    Before I speak I tell myself 3 things: 1) be kind. 2) be useful. 3) be articulate
    These 3 ‘stops’ are a great frame of reference to remind myself of the kind of person I strive to be. It’s one of the reasons why I love reading this blog, because I feel it emulates those attributes as well.

    • Camille Styles January 10, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      Wow, that is such great advice, AND a wonderful compliment. Thanks Caleigh!

  5. 5
    Andrea McAlister January 10, 2017 at 11:56 am

    “…remember that both positivity and negativity are contagions.” Oh, how true! Thanks for this reminder.

  6. 6
    tracy risucci January 17, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    love this post and love the site overall. content always fun, colorful and happy!

  7. 7
    Lucille Long January 18, 2017 at 7:26 am

    I must admit that I also have the tendency to just say whatever pops into my mind, but I have to be more mindful of that. I love the questions you made. I will definitely start using them. Thank you so much!

  8. 8
    Christy Peeples DuBois January 22, 2017 at 4:06 am

    This is a great post and, as you said, the older I’ve gotten the more mindful of this I am.
    There is a quote that I do not remember verbatum however it says that people may forget what you do, and they often may forget what you said but they never forget how you made them feel. Asking these questions you’ve listed will definitely help with this or prevent this from happening.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  9. 9
    Courtney Quinn January 23, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Love this post! Thanks for this great reminder to slow down and think before we act, especially as we begin a new year!

    xo, Courtney

  10. 10
    KK January 26, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    This can also be utilized as before you post! If only everyone thought about the implications of their posts and tweets possibly we could all share more positivity and kindness. thanks for sharing

  11. 11
    effcaa February 1, 2017 at 3:52 am

    Love love love!!!
    xx finja | http://www.effcaa.com

  12. 12
    Chandra Italian Belly February 2, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Great post. It’s just that these 4 things are difficult to remember when you are in the heat of the moment and emotions are high. Do you have any suggestions for that?

  13. 13
    Jennifer February 3, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    love this. definately have to use these. Will be difficult though.

  14. 14
    Ted February 5, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    I’ve been practicing this lately,but when I drink , I say things without thinking . Great post , love it !

  15. 15
    Annie February 5, 2017 at 11:42 pm


    • Annie February 5, 2017 at 11:49 pm

      Good post, thanks. Words are very powerful and we need to chose them carefully. Bad communication habits are focused on people pleasing and winning approval rather than being effective. We need to stay focused on being honest rather than whether we will be liked or not…

  16. 16
    Natalie February 6, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Good advice! I’d be lying if sometimes I didn’t take this on board before speaking!

  17. 17
    Kristin February 10, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    You inspired a blog post: http://www.augnm.com/single-post/2017/02/10/4-Reasons-to-hit-the-Think-Button. I hope you find that it fits all four of your criteria.