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Thinking Before You Speak: A Valuable Lesson

Think before you speak

This was all a long time ago. So although in my mind, my recollection is clear, it’s entirely possible that the events were slightly different in reality. No matter. This is my story; it’s what I remember happening. This is a lesson on thinking before you speak.

Back in those days, I was working for a major consulting practice — one of the largest in the world in fact. The particular office I was working in had very few consultants – but a lot of accountants. Because of the work I did, I needed a private office. Still, at that time, the only people in the building with private offices were partners in the accounting practice except for me. In a hierarchical organisation, this caused considerable – but largely unspoken – consternation.

My role required a great deal of thinking, some creativity and a lot of planning. So I had had a large whiteboard installed in my office so that I could use Mind Maps® for a visual overview of various projects I was involved in. 

I had always found Mind Maps valuable, and although I realised that not everyone liked them, they made me much more productive.

On that fateful day in question, I was absorbed in my work, exploring – on a Mind Map – some inter-related issues on a performance improvement project I was working on.

“What the hell are you doing?” I jumped as I hadn’t noticed I had company.

“I’m thinking! What does it look like I’m doing?” I replied, rather too quickly, but irritated (to say the least) by the intrusion.

“Well, it doesn’t look like thinking to me, and anyway, you’re not paid to think!” replied the intruder. 

“Go away, you’re not my boss, and I’m busy,” I answered. 

In all honesty, the exact words may not have been “go away”, but I’m sure you get the picture.

I carried on working, although a part of my brain was wondering whether I had been a little too direct and what would happen next. It would be fair to say that it was almost certainly the first time that that partner had ever been told to “go away” in that way!

I didn’t have to wonder for long. Two, maybe three minutes passed, and my phone rang. It was my boss, a consultancy partner based in another office.

The conversation went something like this:

My boss: “Tell me, Clive, are you Mind Mapping at the moment?”

Me: “Yes, how did you know?”

My boss: “You know how I know!”

Me: “True, I do.”

My boss: “Did you tell him to ‘go away’?”

Me: “Yes, but he was disturbing me, and I’m busy – you know what it’s like.”

My boss: “You could have got rid of him without causing a diplomatic incident and undoing six months work on inter-departmental cooperation. Couldn’t you?”

Me: “I guess, sorry.”

My boss: “Will you go and apologise to him, please?”

Me: “Only if he apologises for disturbing me.”

My boss: “You know that’s not how it works in this firm, Clive.”

Well, the rest of the story does become a little convoluted. I did eventually apologise after a fashion. But it was probably too little and too late.

The incident got me thinking about whether I wanted to carry on working in that particular firm. That, in turn, got me wondering about whether I wanted to stay in consultancy. 

That train of thought eventually led me to consider the idea of starting my own business; an idea that grew until I became involved in setting up Illumine Training a few years later, back in 1996.

Thinking Before You Speak: Learn How

I was reminded of this incident and its consequences when we recently launched our newest verbal communication skills course, Think Before You Speak™

The course is all about how to respond in a moment when faced with an unexpected question or challenge. 

A lot of us ‘shoot from the hip’ or panic, or fail to communicate effectively in these situations. We don’t think about what we want to say nor how we can say it most effectively. The key in these situations is thinking before you speak. Doing so can make a massive difference.

On reflection, I could have done with the things we teach on this course, a quarter of a century ago – but better late than never! 

On that day, had I taken a moment to engage my brain before responding. If I had a deeper understanding of the idea “thinking before you speak“, the outcome – both on that day – and consequently – may have been very different!

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