3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Opening Your Mouth

I recently read an interesting article about three magical questions that supposedly have the power to increase emotional intelligence. The idea is simple – before you say anything, ask yourself:

1. Does this need to be said? 

2. Does this need to be said by me? 

3. Does this need to be said by me now? 

I read the article a few days ago and the questions have been running around and around in my head since. I don’t know much about emotional intelligence, but from a mindfulness perspective the concept is brilliant – regardless of the answers to the questions. The point is in the asking.

On this blog I babble and rant about mindfulness meditation and mindful eating, mindful walking and mindful breastfeeding – but what about mindful speech? How often do we pause before speaking to our kids, our partners, our colleagues, and take a moment to connect with the words that are already on their way from our brains through our mouths and into someone else’s ears? Or in other words – are we present when we talk?

The first question brings us out of our thoughts, forcing us into the role of observer in order to answer. A sentiment that seemed all important when it arose in the mind might look less pressing on a quick second round of investigation. Next, the second question allows us to look at ourselves critically, to question our role in a given interaction. Perhaps it’s not our place to comment, or maybe there’s someone else who would say this better? And lastly, the third question slows everything down, preventing a knee-jerk reaction and offering alternatives.

Whether we find the answer to the three questions is yes or no, there’s much to be learned from the process. We avoid saying something ranging from useless to hurtful or – and this is the interesting bit – we realize that we’re about to say something important and helpful. Sometimes the answer to all three of the questions is a resounding “yes,” and we can connect with the true purpose of our speech, and really stand behind our words.

This is mindful speech – wise, present and powerful.

Like all practices, this sort of thing takes practice. The last few days I’ve been jerking through the three questions in my head, ruminating on whether or not to speak and when in a way that probably leaves me looking weird and dumfounded a lot of the time. I’m guessing it’ll become second nature as time goes by – the questions will just merge into some sort of pause-slash-question-mark moment, and the answer will be clear.

In the meantime I’m enjoying the process, using it as yet another reminder to come back to the present – and talking a little less than usual, too.

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