you said what? 7 tips to avoid being a big mouth at work
Editor Picks | July 24, 2015
It’s no coincidence that I’m sharing how to overcome your big mouth at the office; when it comes to big mouths, mine is as wide as a harbor. Big mouths can be a lot of fun to work with, but they can also cause problems and affect teamwork if not tempered. I’ve worked for years to control my mouth in professional settings, learning that words have a power all their own and to use them carefully. Maybe you could use a little help, too, to control your big mouth?
Let’s start with the big two: Politics and Religion
Talking about politics is not appropriate, pretty much ever. During election seasons when tempers and feelings might run a little more public and a little more heated, it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself unless asked, and even then, engage only as a last resort, and only with great thought. Never assume your coworkers hold the same ideologies as you do.
Whatever your beliefs, allowing others the space to act according to their consciences is critical. I’ve been in both a religious minority and in a religious majority at work, and in both cases I recommend staying away from the topics while at work. Offer to take a curious coworker out for a drink after work if they wish to discuss politics and religion.
Developing an internal monologue
It’s a critical development: thinking about what you say before you say it. I know, harder than it sounds, but truly, you must develop an inner monologue: a conversation inside your own head where you think hard about what you’re going to say before you say it. Take a deep breathe before you speak, think about what you want to say before you say it. If you feel your heat rising, (and we big mouths can feel the flames as they start to lick) close your eyes and think about what you want to say before you say a word. If you need to, excuse yourself from a conversation.
Seek to be professional
Think about how a professional acts: considerate, polite, and deliberate. You should strive to emulate professionalism in every work setting. That means that when you’re about to open your mouth, ask yourself if it’s a professional thought and will be accepted as a professional statement. I rarely regret what I say when I’m trying to be professional.
Be quick to apologize—and mean it
You stuck your foot in your roomy mouth, it happens. It’s time to make amends by apologizing with empathy. Sometimes I don’t even realize that I’ve offended someone, but I know enough about my brash mouth that I start from the position that I am the one who needs to offer the first apology. Think about how the other person must feel, put yourself in their shoes, how would you react if one of your core beliefs or very integrity was insulted? You owe the other person an apology and you should mean it. Nothing fake here. And if some form of the words “I’m sorry you feel you were offended” cross your lips, that’s a terrible apology. Be truly sorry for what you did, accept your part, and don’t cast blame on the other person.
If you really crossed the line
Maybe you said something that was incredibly offensive, and whether or not you meant it (I hope you didn’t!) you absolutely have to humble yourself and accept the responsibility for your words. Your words hurt someone else. Seek out your HR rep and explain that you need help making amends. Accept that you might need to take measures, including a sensitivity course, to assure your coworkers that you can be trusted. Asking for help to redress your actions can go a long way to healing wounds.
If you know you’re at risk for a big mouth at work, follow these steps:
1. Is it about race, religion, or politics? Stop right there.
2. Do you feel a rush of anger? Take a deep breathe and count to three before you say a word.
3. Write it down and make edits before communicating your thoughts.
4. Tone is difficult to capture through text, so edit emails carefully
5. Assume that other people will read the worst into your words, so choose them carefully.
6. You do not have to respond to everything.
7. Apologize and accept responsibility, if you do cross a line.
Good luck! And if all else fails, install a zipper!