We get worked up and say something we wish we hadn’t. Now we’re filled with regret and left picking up the pieces on a situation that could have been avoided.
When things get heated, it’s all too easy to say something you’ll regret, hurting someone you love or causing a division among colleagues that really never had to happen in the first place.
People always tell you to think before you speak. And, sure, it works sometimes. But for the most part, it’s an unrealistic suggestion that is far easier said than done.
But that’s mostly because we don’t know what to think about. So, we often end up just mulling over our anger and making it worse.
I regret things all the time. I’ve never regretted not saying something. I’ve only regretted saying something.
– Chrissy Teigen
Instead of eating your words, use this simple trick to save you from saying something you’ll regret:
Craig Ferguson’s “3-second trick”
As unexpected as it might be, this simple trick comes from none other than comedian and former late-night host Craig Ferguson.
Ferguson says that there are three questions you need to ask before saying something you might regret:
Does this need to be said?
Does this need to be said by me?
Does this need to be said by me now?
The questions might appear simplistic but the more you think about and apply them, it becomes obvious that their simplicity is their very genius.
This strikes to the heart of three basic assumptions we make in virtually every conversation. Often, we’re so consumed with what we want to express that we don’t think about the fact that something can be held back and actually help the conversation.
Not everything has to be expressed, especially when you get worked up and might end up saying something you don’t mean, which is really where the first question comes in.
Do you really need to tell them they’re a screw-up? No, you don’t truly think that, you just want to hit them with something because of the pain they’ve caused you in the past five minutes. Stop before you say something you’ll regret.
Or do you really need to complain about what happened in that meeting? Is it possible the criticism isn’t warranted and it was just your interpretation?
And for the second question, do you need to be the one to tell them they might be in the wrong job? Maybe you can talk to their best friend and convince them to have a conversation with the person? Especially if they tend to react defensively when you bring things like that up.
Or do you need to be the one to complain about a colleagues performance? Or would it be better to take it up with the team leader before you cause a rift between teammates?
Finally, do you really need to say that they’re not very good at that new task they just picked up last week? Or would it be better to encourage they continue practicing and that they’ll get better soon?
Or should you talk to that colleague about the incident last week now or is it possible you might be missing information? Should you wait to see what they say in the next meeting first?
In the moment, the right one of these three questions takes no more than a few seconds. However, it can help keep you from saying something you’ll regret much longer.