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Erin Donley Headshot

What to Ask Before You Speak

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Last Friday, I had to unexpectedly say goodbye to Banjo, my beloved dog of 12 years.

As I wiped away a constant stream of tears, I also felt stressed about giving a speech in less than 48 hours to a respected group of women in Portland.

I had been looking forward to this event for months, and now I didn't want to go.

I had an obligation there. It was expected of me, yet I couldn't get my thoughts straight or my emotions restrained.

Friends encouraged me to cancel it. "You've had a death in the family," they said, "You don't have to do this!"

That didn't feel right though. It was expected of me to show up, and I'm glad I did.

Have you ever been in a situation where you could sense someone in the group did not want to be there? No one wants to be around others in that space. We're smart enough to identify insincerity and turn our attention elsewhere.

Saying YES when we want to say NO can even be damaging.

It's a disservice to everyone, but mostly to ourselves when we relinquish personal power without recognizing our ability to choose.

A friend called the day after Banjo died, assuming I'd be worried about this upcoming talk. Instead of giving her opinion, she offered to tell me a story. She said it would enable me to know for sure whether I was up for the challenge or not.

She spoke about her adult daughter, who is a severe alcoholic. While trying to intervene, her daughter launched a physical attack on her. With bruises on her body and her soul ripped to shreds, my friend made the decision to step away from her daughter's life.

The next day, she had five clients scheduled. She felt obligated to be there, yet her heartache was unbearable. Something told her to persevere and to go work anyway.

When her day was complete, she realized she had gone nine hours without pain. This was remarkable because when she reached her car, tears burst from her eyes and the bruises regained tenderness.

She was reminded how her work served a deeper purpose and that by giving to others, we get what we need for ourselves.

This story helped me to pull myself together. In fact, I recalled a recent speaking engagement to a group of 70 mortgage brokers. In that moment, I found myself in a place of total euphoria and comfort.

This told me I had found a much-needed escape from the pain, and maybe even a gift to offer these dynamic women who invited me.

My message became clear then too. I knew I had to talk about DISCERNMENT.

It's difficult to make decisions when we're stressed, worried or in grief. If we don't have a system of discernment, our actions and words can cause unexpected pain, and be alienating or offensive... even if it's authentic and feels necessary.

As a business communication trainer, I'm constantly talking about DELIVERY -- what to say and how to say it. What's missing is framework for IF those words or opinions must be spoken at all.

With everyone chanting "speak your truth," few seem to mention the price we pay for it. We're encouraged to do it anyway, even when timing isn't right and no one agrees. In my experience, this is not giving us the satisfaction we seek.

To top it off, when communication goes awry, we tend to soothe each other with phrases like:

-- Don't take it personal.
-- It's their loss, not yours.
-- The Universe intervened for a reason.

While these statements might be true, what's missing is personal accountability.

In some cases, finding our truth and speaking it silently to ourselves is all we need to feel peace. It can be viewed as verbal masturbation when our opinions aren't given proper consideration and reflection.

In business, it could mean the loss of money, clients, support, or credibility. In life, it can mean loneliness which is one of the greatest pains of all.

I explained to the women my struggle with obligation and expectation, and how I came to decide this was where I wanted to be.

Then, I presented five questions to ponder before speaking openly about anything.

This discernment tool is necessary for writing important emails, posting on social media, or creating provocative blog topics. It's also helpful when initiating any difficult discussion with anyone.

5 Questions to Ask Before You Speak:

1. What selfish need does this fill?

2. Is this beneficial to others? How?

3. What do you secretly hope will happen?

4. What do I secretly fear will happen?

5. Am I willing to face the consequences?

If our answers are laced with blame, shame, resentment or a need to be right, there will likely be a painful price to pay. If our answers feel kind, clear and energize us with possibility, there could be consequences, but it's usually worth it.

After a successful talk at the woman's group, my thoughts reflected back to Banjo. He did things on his own terms without remorse, and he was far from being a people (or dog) pleaser. We always knew where we stood with him because he was strong and loving.

This made him one of the most magnetic dogs on the block.

If we can break free from obligation and expectation, imagine the freedom we could feel. Relationships can improve as long as we continue to speak our truth, not just to be heard, but to strengthen our connections and remember how much our words matter.

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