I love to talk to my husband Jeff. No subject is off limits: politics, the meaning of life and how I need to stop eating chocolate. And he’s great. After 50 years of marriage and 35 years working together, he’s learned the art of listening. Lean in. Eye contact. Make small agreeable noises, “Aha, Mmm-hmm, I see.” It’s why we’ve stayed together; he’s so agreeable.
But I’ve noticed when I talk to other people, their eyes glaze over and they make an excuse to leave, “I just remembered I have a colonoscopy!” or they change subject, “Turkeys two for one at Jewel,” or laugh, “For a short story, that was really long.” So, I’ve decided to stifle myself. Not in a mean Archie Bunker Cro-Magnon way, but in an evolved Rumi way, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.” Ask yourself, ‘Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?'”
Stuff like this makes so much sense. But in the moment of listening to people I privately label “knucklehead,” “birdbrain,” or “nincompoop,” it’s hard to filter. That’s why I’m going to stifle myself because it cuts straight to the chase; zipped lips don’t sink no stinkin’ ships.
I can’t tell you how many arguments I’d have stopped if I’d just stifled. And it’s not like I don’t know better; I’ve taught thousands of people in all the VA hospitals across the U.S., and Fortune 500 companies worldwide about Diversity and Inclusion, Emotional Intelligence, and Building Personal Resilience. But in all honesty, I feel a lot of problems could be solved, if we just stifled ourselves because, from executives to frontline employees, their burning question is, “How do I communicate with …?” And they always name one person in their department who is causing them to lose sleep, eat junk food and exhibit road rage on their drive home.
In most cases if they could just stifle themselves, use the Three Gates philosophy and seek agreement, their lives and the lives of everyone around them would improve. Because what is said cannot be unsaid — every word has consequences.