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November 10, 1992

Think before You Speak

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Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. PROVERBS 17:28
Have you ever been in a meeting with an unfamiliar coworker who insisted on asking stupid questions or making dumb, irrelevant comments? Few things are more frustrating than listening to such foolish babble, especially when you’re up against a deadline and really need to be finishing a project at your desk instead of sitting in a meeting. As you left the meeting, perhaps your mind was flooded with such thoughts as, That guy is such an idiot! Somebody really needs to teach him when to be quiet.
Now think about what your postmeeting thoughts would have been if your coworker had sat through the meeting and not said a single word. You’ve never met him before, so you have no preconceived notions about what he’s like. By his silence, you just might infer that he was intelligent and perceptive, only willing to speak when he had something beneficial to offer the conversation. You’d be wrong, of course, but you wouldn’t know it. That’s because, as Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”
Knowing when to speak and when to be silent is a valuable (though often missing) skill in today’s work settings. It’s so easy to spout off facts and opinions at a moment’s notice—it makes us appear intelligent, we think, and if we look smart, perhaps we’ll get promoted or at least recognized by our boss. But more often than not, it’s much better—for us and for everyone around us—if we just hold our tongues. As someone once quipped, “It’s better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

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