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How to Think Before You Communicate

Watch babies sometime to see how they try to express themselves. I had the delightful opportunity to spend time with my 10-month old granddaughter over the weekend and I was fascinated to witness her advancing communications skills. It got me thinking about how we learn to share what’s on our minds.

Babies cry when they are hungry, wet, or frightened, and they coo when they are content.

These noises turn into babbles and singing as they discover verbal capabilities and sound control. Their first recognizable expressions are reflections of their caregivers and surroundings; they mimic what they hear on a routine basis. (This has caused many an embarrassing moment for adults.)

As children learn language and rudimentary concepts of communication, they begin to choose words and expressions to get a desired result. At this stage, the concept of appropriateness is usually introduced.

Finally, formal education expands their vocabulary, deepens their understanding of communication, and introduces a variety of communications media. Thus, a child learns to communicate his or her thinking in a more-or-less adult world.

Going back to the earliest stages, it might be tempting to believe that thinking comes with the development of communication skills. However, if you watch a baby’s face, you will see the child react to her surroundings in a very open manner. Surely there are thoughts behind the scrunched face, the big smile, the wide-eyed observation. But it takes time to learn how to express those thoughts. Along the way, they are often covered over or replaced with the thoughts of her teachers.

A child’s views of the world are hand-me-downs from caregivers until he can begin to see and understand things from an independent perspective. Sometimes those hand-me-downs are never replaced. Arrested development makes for limited communication effectiveness.

We see the result of this in our world today. Intractable positions on all manner of topics divide and isolate people. Without having the words to describe this division and isolation, not to mention the fear it produces, many lash out in anger and resentment. Defensiveness and a holier-than-thou attitude are protection mechanisms as well.

What to do? Continue your education by intentionally learning about other people, cultures, and ideas. Study the art of listening and practice it on a daily basis. Take time to know what’s on your mind before speaking it. Develop an appreciation for the fact that not every thought that crosses your mind needs to run out of your mouth.

Every act of communication starts with a thought. Well-considered and appropriately expressed, our thoughts can unite us to others while drawing necessary and appropriate boundaries. Ill-considered and burped out, our thoughts can lead to mayhem.

Categories: General Advice, Leadership

About Susan Marshall

Susan Marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.