I did a dumb thing the other day. That’s not all that unusual for me, but this one stayed with me for a while and I think something interesting came out of it.
Have you ever whipped out a quick answer to an email and hit the “send” button?
I mean, hit it too fast? And then thought of what you REALLY should have said?
That’s what I did, and it cost me a re-do and an explanation. Minor embarrassment. No biggy.
Here’s what happened. I was going through my emails, trying to answer as many as possible, and I wrote one to a colleague of mine to congratulate him on something he had written. Just a quick note of appreciation was all I intended.
Trouble is, I hit the “send” button just as I was thinking that I hadn’t said what I meant. Even worse, I HAD said stuff that I didn’t actually mean to say. The words just came out wrong.
I really respect this guy, and now I had to go back and say, “Never mind. This is what I was trying to say the first time.” I finished my explanation by saying, “Sometimes the ‘send’ button is just damn too easy!”
Later that night, as I was trying to go to sleep, there was this argument in my mind. I heard a little voice saying to me, “It’s not the ‘send’ button that’s the problem, Tom, the problem is you didn’t even stop to read your email and consider whether that’s what you intended to say. It’s not the “send” button that’s too damn easy, it’s you!”
I vowed that in the future I would reread my emails and consider what the other person reading them might make of what I wrote, before I actually send them.
I went to sleep thinking thoughts about how life is speeding up, there’s too much email in the world, and maybe I ought to reduce my number of email boxes or something.
Still thinking about it over coffee and melon the next morning.
Then I had a really nasty thought. It’s even easier to hit the “send” button when you’re talking! I mean, when you write an email there’s something you can read before you send it. All you have to do is to take the time to do it, and you can send out your best thinking.
It’s different when you’re talking. Once you open your mouth it’s out there, whatever you may have said.
I immediately remembered the last few times someone had misunderstood something I had said to them.
Like my wife Vikki. Or my grandchildren. Or a waiter, or someone on the phone.
You know what? It wasn’t them. I have to admit that when we got to the bottom of each of those misunderstandings, it turned out that they had gotten the wrong impression from something I had said to each of them.
I remember reading somewhere that God gave us two ears and only one mouth so we would listen twice as much as we talked.
Still, what got me into trouble wasn’t talking more than listening. It was talking without saying what I wanted to say.
“So,” went my thinking, “Suppose I treated my verbal communications just like the email. If I wanted to reread my verbal “emails” before I hit the ‘send’ button in my jaw, I would have to think more before I speak.”
I’d have to consider what I was going to say from the standpoint of the person I was talking to – and consider how it might strike them – instead of just saying whatever came into my mind.
Being more thoughtful about what I said didn’t mean I was going to become a stiff robot. It just meant that, before I said something I was going to try to hear it as if I was the other person.
I remember when I was a teenager; there was this old black lady who was a waitress in a coffee shop I used to hang out in when I was a kid.
Everybody in the place loved her and was always asking her advice. Whenever two people were discussing something important, the answer I heard over and over was, “Ask Hildy.”
I couldn’t figure out why she was so important to all of these people. She was just a waitress in a coffee shop, but businessmen and even the owner of the place would go “ask Hildy” what she thought — about a new menu, a new girlfriend or a new job.
I asked her one day why so many people liked to talk with her.
“Well, Tommy” she said. “Every time I start to say something, I just stop and taste the words before I let ’em out of my mouth.”
Hmmm. Forty years ago, before anyone had ever even heard of email, this wise woman knew about checking her messages before sending them out.
In the future, I think I’ll review more than just my emails before hitting the “send” button.