Everyone knows that one person who just can’t stop talking. They say anything and everything that comes to mind, the person with no filter, usually pretty annoying. That’s the kind of person that often regrets what they say or contradicts themselves at every turn. You can usually find them putting their foot in their mouth, gossiping, or pretending to know everything.
Loose lips sink ships, and everyone would be wise to take some advice from Epictetus who said, “We have two ears and one mouth, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.“
The more you open your mouth, the more opportunity you have to use your power of speech to attract to yourself things you probably don’t want in your life. Embarrassment, regret, a whole range of negative emotions. Speech should be used to empower yourself and others and careless use of it can often lead to misery.
Robert Greene in his book, The 48 Laws of Power, emphasizes the importance of using your speech wisely and to listen more than you speak. In his book Greene tells many stories of men who fell from positions of power and even lost their lives because of their words.
On the other side of the coin, Greene also writes about Louis XIV who used his silence to his advantage, keeping the people around him in the dark and under his thumb. When his ministers came to him with matters of the kingdom, he would listen in silence and then simply say, “I shall see,” and the results of his decision would be seen later.
You may not be the ruler of a kingdom, but you can rule over yourself and over what comes out of your mouth. The more you speak, the more information you reveal about yourself, your intentions, and your secrets which are best kept to yourself. The more you speak without intention, the more you will put your foot in your mouth.
Instead, listen to people. Often, they will tell you all you want to know and more if you can keep them talking. Don’t broadcast all of your thoughts and feelings to the world. That’s a surefire way to feel regret later in life. Have you ever read an old entry you made in a journal and thought, What the hell was I thinking?! Cringe. Well, it’s the same when you speak your thoughts and feelings to others or post about them on social media. Once you say something, you can’t get those words back.
Be the listener. Be a questioner. Learn from others and be the gatherer of information. Stop trying to tell your story when someone else is telling a story about themselves. When someone tells you an idea, let them tell it fully, don’t interrupt and follow the first urge you have to expand on it or shoot it down. Pay attention to what they have to say and listen for once and you will start absorbing twice as much information as you are putting out and you will be the better for it.
Have you ever been telling someone a story or an idea of yours when they interject and start talking about themselves and you never got to finish, and so you never told them what you had to say and now they will never know because you decided not to say it after being interrupted?
Well, how many times do you think you’ve consciously or unconsciously done that to someone else? Probably more than you think, and you’ve missed out on learning about that person, about how people operate in general, and on discovering what’s going on in the person behind the veil of words that they put up to the world.
People don’t need to know your business. What’s personal should stay personal. If you have someone you absolutely trust and you really need to speak your mind, then do so, but 99% of the time you don’t need to tell other people about your personal thoughts, feelings or business.
You shouldn’t be telling people things like that because you don’t need to have them walking around, thinking negative thoughts about you or gossiping about you to their friends. Keep what’s personal private and you’ll live a life with fewer regrets.
Be wise like Epictetus and listen twice as much as you speak and see where it takes you.