Hey You - Watch Your Mouth!
by Chris Widener

Do you remember the first time you used a little “blue” language as a child… and your mother caught you? I do!

“Hey You - Watch Your Mouth!”

Maybe you got a quick swat or the bar of soap in your mouth? The results varied from person to person, but what is interesting to me is why our parents reacted they way they did and the lesson there is for us today.

Isn’t it true that the main reason parents react to the improper use of the mouth is because certain language is not only improper, but brings about bad results? If you use that kind of language in the first grade for example, uh, like I used to, you are surely to be removed from class.

The principle: The words of your mouth produce results.

This is a lesson for us as adults as well.

There is an old proverb that says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” This is a universal truth!

Have you ever thought about the way you use your mouth and the results that you see from it? Now, I am not saying that your words have some sort of mystical, magical power. I am talking about how the words you use affect both you and the others around you, which in turn produces results in your life, either positive or negative.

Here are some examples of ways people sabotage themselves with their mouths and some ways to reverse that trend and create success for yourself. (A note: While this article deals with very practical ideas, I also want to say that my overriding theory of why we shouldn’t speak in bad ways is because people have inherent value and are to be honored no matter who they are. So, while I give practical reasons for speaking in right ways, the overriding reason to do so is based not on what we get out of it, but because it is the right thing to do.) With that said, here are the major problems people have with their mouths:

  1. Gossip.
    This may be one of the most ubiquitous problems there is. People telling other people another person’s business. And it usually isn’t very good. Very rarely does anyone pass along “good gossip.”

    The Result: Have you ever found out that someone passed along information about you? How did you feel? Exactly my point. Did you want to do business with them? Did you want to help them? Again, exactly my point. Stay away from the harmful effects of gossip, first for the other person’s sake, but ultimately for yours.

    The Antidote: Never pass along gossip. If that person wants others to know, they will tell them. If you start a sentence with, “Did you hear about…” chances are that you are walking on the edge. Watch your mouth!

  2. Rumors.
    Rumors are even worse (if it can be so) than gossip because the person doesn’t even know if the information is true. Rumors are entirely reckless and do no good.

    The Result: If you think people will dislike you, and stand in the way of your success, because of gossip, imagine how they will feel when they find out you were passing along untrue information about them! You will lose your friends pretty quickly.

    The Antidote: If you choose to never gossip then you will never pass along rumors either, which is good! Make it your policy to only speak good of others, especially when speaking to others about people. The old saying is true: If you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all! In other words - Watch your mouth!

  3. Lying.
    It is strange to me how parents teach their children to always tell the truth but many of them have for themselves a skewed understanding of what it means to tell the truth. The average person feels it is okay to sometimes lie. The only problem with this is that lying, for whatever reason, can only do one thing: Break trust.

    The Result: People will not trust you. They will wonder if you are telling the truth. They will stay away from you when they know they need to count on someone. But even worse in my mind is that you will not be able to trust yourself. When we lie we teach ourselves that we are not trustworthy. The other person may never know, but we will. And ultimately that hurts us and stands in the way of our success.

    The Antidote: Always tell the truth. I know what some of you are thinking: ALWAYS? Yes, always. But what if someone doesn’t like what I have to say? I didn’t say you have to be a jerk, but being an adult means developing relationships wherein you can tell the truth to someone, in a respectful way, and still have a relationship. So yes, commit to speaking the truth to people at all times. If it is a tough situation, then do it with even more respect. Or, an alternative is to simply say, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this.” In all things - Watch your mouth!

  4. Put downs.
    Most normal people aren’t too bad at blatant put downs. Where I see more of a problem is the back-handed compliment. Or the behind the back put down. But still there are people who have no problem speaking in tones and words that put down others and degrade them, for whatever reason.

    The Result: When you are a person who regularly puts down others, people will have the same reaction: The will run, not walk, from you. People simply do not want to be around others who speak this way. And they will not only not help you along, they will, out of their hurt, actively oppose your advancement. So if you want to cut your success short, speak ill of others.

    The Antidote: Only speak good of others. If they have a negative point, focus instead on the good points. Talk about their strengths, not their weaknesses. Tell them what is good about them, not what is bad about them. Watch your mouth!

  5. Poor-mouthing.
    I am always amazed at what I call “Poor-mouthing.” Rich people do it. Poor people do it. This is when you talk about how poor you are and why you can’t afford anything. The actuality that I have found is that those who poor mouth CAN afford what they are talking about, they just don’t want to.

    The Result: When people poor-mouth, a few things happen. First, you confirm your poverty mentality. This hurts you. Second, people begin to be disgusted by you, especially if they know how much you make and they think you should be able to afford it. They will begin to roll their eyes at you and disrespect you. I know what it means to not have much money. Fresh out of college my wife and I didn’t make much. We decided to never say that we couldn’t afford something. If we really couldn’t, we just didn’t mention anything at all. The last thing I wanted was for someone to start playing the violins for my sob story.

    The Antidote: Don’t talk about how you can’t afford something. What would you be trying to accomplish anyway? If you can’t afford something, keep quiet. Now you may ask what to do if you are invited to something and you can’t afford it. Respectfully decline. You don’t owe anyone an excuse. Just apologize and say that you will be unable to attend but that you hope to do something with them in the near future. Keep positive and watch your mouth!

  6. Bragging.
    You know the type. Every sentence begins with “I….” The guy whose middle name is “Let me tell you a story about myself.” The woman who has to top every story of yours. After a while all you hear is “Blah, blah, blah.” Bragging is usually based in insecurity and most people don’t even know they are doing it. That is unfortunate.

    The Result: Braggers usually have a few different results. One, people try to cut them down to size. Two, they avoid them. Three, they may sit there looking attentive but are inside of their minds making plans for the weekend. It is all they can do to keep their eyes from rolling back in their head.

    The Antidote: Humility. Start as few sentences as possible with “I.” Let somebody else’s story be the best one. Ask questions about other people for a change. If they try to turn the conversation onto you, turn it back on to them! Don’t brag - watch your mouth!

  7. Cussing.
    Not much needs to be said here. We all know what this is. I am still surprised by how many people cuss and even in a business situation. In my mind, it simply is intolerable. I don’t know why someone would cuss anymore than tell an off-color joke, but they do.

    The Result: People cringe. More than that, cussing makes people question your judgment. A boss will wonder whether or not you are going to offend someone when he sends you on a sales call. Or a business associate may be reticent to make an introduction to someone else for you. Cussing isn’t good. It makes you come off as crass and low class.

    The Antidote: Keep your language clean. Squeaky clean. Keep all bad language out. The big question is: What will it hurt to keep it clean? But it can hurt to say something you may regret later. No one will complain because you talk well, but they may complain about your cussing. To put it another way - watch your mouth!

Have you ever done a “watch your mouth” checklist and then worked on your weaknesses? If not, here is one for you:

  • Do you gossip?

  • Do you pass along or start rumors?

  • Do you lie?

  • Are you given to put-downs?

  • Do you poor-mouth?

  • Are you a braggart?

  • Do you cuss?

Take some time to think about these things. If you can keep your mouth in good shape and not only avoid the bad ways of speaking but master the good ways of speaking, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful person!

Hey you - watch your mouth!

Because if you do, you will achieve your dreams!

Chris Widener is a popular speaker and writer as well as the President of Made for Success and Extraordinary Leaders, two companies helping individuals and organizations turn their potential into performance, succeed in every area of their lives and achieve their dreams. Visit his websites at http://www.madeforsuccess.com and http://www.extraordinaryleaders.com.

Many more articles in Personal Development in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2005 by Chris Widener. All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading