29 Apr, 2018

Mind Your Language

Why is it vital to think before you speak?

When I was young, there was a sitcom on ITV (there was only one ITV in those days!) called Mind your language. It featured the adventures of a teacher of an adult language evening class.

Mind your language sitcom

Every student was from a different country and they were all attempting to master the English language and make the UK their home.

It was full of stereotypes and not at all PC by today’s standards but it was very popular. What I found most amusing and interesting, however, was the impact that a slight slip in speech could have. Of course, it was of the era when every situation in a TV comedy degenerated into chaos but the principle that was behind this sitcom is as important now as ever.

Pete Cohen motivational speaker

Change Your World Conference / Event, at Eden Court, Inverness, Highlands of Scotland, UK. 7th April 2017 Photo : Paul Tomkins E: paultomkins@yahoo.com M +44(0)7778 163 067

I spend a lot of my time as a speaker and leadership coach focussing on what people say to themselves. Within ourselves there is an inner voice that is chattering away in the background – I call it the duck (quack, quack, quack) but it is also referred to as the monkey-mind or the chimp, plus many other metaphors.

Whatever you choose to call it, this internal dialogue can be very harsh. The things we say to ourselves are far less kind than anything we would ever say to anybody else. Within business, being aware of this inner voice is really important. Never more so that when choosing what we say to those within our teams.

My coach used to tell me that the nature of the mind is to play tricks. I’m sure you can relate. We’ve all had that strange feeling that someone is watching us and most of us, as some point, will have spent time ruminating on what someone has said to us and spun it into something quite different.

“What did she mean by that?”

“Should I have done something different?”

“Did he mean I’m not doing a good job?”

“She never singles other people out in meetings. What did I do wrong?”

It is, of course, the duck at work but it can have a really damaging effect.

Dale Carnegie once wrote, “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.”What a great expression!

How you treat other people is such a critical factor in getting the best from them.

And, if you don’t care for the wisdom of Dale Carnegie, how about Charles Schwab? In 1897, Andrew Carnegie employed 35-year-old, Schwab and payed him $1million a year as president of his steel company. It was, at the time, the largest salary ever paid to anyone.

Charles Schwab


Was he a genius? Did he know more about steel than other people? No. Schwab said that there were people there that knew a lot more than him about steel but it was his ability to deal with people which Carnegie saw and prized so highly.

Schwab really understood what mattered. 

In his own words he said, “There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticism from superiors.”

The science behind this is startling. And it isn’t new.

Hans Selye

Hans Selye first discovered what we now call stress in 1936. He showed that most people dread condemnation and criticism.

Not just dislike it or feel a bit defensive. Dread.

By telling someone they ‘did it wrong’ or highlighting the errors in their work (what most organisations these days choose to term ‘feedback’) you are wounding them and draining away all their drive. You are never going to see the best of them that way.

Does that mean you need to ignore mistakes and let poor performance slide?

No, of course not. But you do need to be aware of the impact you are having on someone in those circumstances and be sure to balance any negative feedback with the positive.

What you may consider as an offhand remark or a helpful intervention to someone, if said without thought, is going to be exaggerated by their duck into a belief that they aren’t good at what they do.

Never has the phrase ‘Think before you speak’ been more important than when motivating and inspiring your staff.


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