In July 2006, Parenting Plus magazine published an article I wrote called “Curbing My Tongue: How I Learned to Quit Putting My Foot in My Mouth.” The article addressed the danger of blurting out insensitive remarks or opinions, and provided tips on how to keep a tighter rein on our tongues. So, of all people, you would think I’d know better than to make a tactless remark to someone. No such luck.
After church last Sunday, my twins and I joined a group of other parents and children on the playground. We were watching our kids run around the playground equipment, and one of the mothers remarked about her little boy, “I’m trying to figure out where he got all that energy!” Noticing the beautiful blond curls on the tiny tot, and the dark straight hair on both his parents, I laughingly replied, “I’m trying to figure out where he got those gorgeous curls!” Silence. By the crestfallen look on the mother’s face, I had said the “wrong thing.” I knew the child wasn’t adopted because the mother had mentioned her pregnancy to me previously, but in thinking about it later, I realized that maybe the child was a product of a donated egg or sperm (or both), which would explain the inherited blond curls. Or perhaps he was biologically related to both parents, but they just got sick and tired of everyone inferring that the child wasn’t theirs! Of course, I tried to cover my tracks and commented several times on how beautiful the child is, which the mother graciously smiled and accepted. But I felt like a real heel when I got in the car to go home. I remembered how badly I felt after I gave birth to my twins and, several weeks later, a man asked me when they were due! I hated the thought that I had made that mother feel as badly as I felt that day.
So, to spare some of you from making the same faux pas , I’m going to summarize here the tips that were in my original article. And then I’m going to go back and read them over again and again until I commit them to memory!
1. Practice listening instead of speaking. I’ve learned that if I’m really listening to what others are saying and not jumping in with my own version of the story, I offend a lot less people. These days, I don’t jump in with my own feelings unless an honest opinion is truly solicited. When I speak, I encourage the other person to continue the conversation by asking questions: “How do you feel about that?” “What did you do?” “Are you happy with your decision?” I’ve found that my foot is a lot drier these days when I use this tactic.
2. Balance the benefits of speaking out against the potential harm. Next time you’re tempted to express an opinion, ask yourself, Am I really going to help someone by giving my viewpoint, or am I just eager to contribute to the conversation by showcasing my own feelings? If the words from your mouth will give no wisdom or understanding to the listener, then don’t offer them.
3. Use your “gift of gab” for good. Nowadays, when I’m about to express an opinion, I remind myself that my “loose lips” can be used for a better purpose: to make people feel good about themselves. Instead of telling my friends what I don’t like, I think about what I do. I may not care for my friend’s new couch, but I do care for her—and I can let her know honestly that her choice of wallpaper is outstanding. Expressing positive thoughts makes you a better friend.