self esteem

When to Stay Silent and When to Speak

Last week, when your boss asked you for your view on a matter, you said you had none. But inside you were brimming with opinions. Now he’s decided to go with your co-worker’s idea, and you wished you had told him yours.

Yesterday, your neighbor vented her frustration to you about her teenage son staying out late at nights. You ran into her son that same night and scolded him, revealing what his mother told you. Now she’s pissed at you for intervening, and you wish you had stayed silent.

It can be tough to know when to speak. Self-awareness, perceptiveness and empathy are the keys to making the right decision.

Stay Silent When:

You have nothing to say. Sometimes, people speak just because there’s silence. This induces mindless chatter. If you’re talking solely because it’s quiet, you really have nothing to say. Don’t assume something is wrong because someone isn’t talking, as they may simply not have anything to say. Speak deliberately; this is the key to attaining honesty and focus.

You need time to solidify your reaction. In emotionally-charged situations, such as debates or arguments with a spouse or friend, there’s always the risk of you responding in a hurtful or aggressive manner. To gain perspective on an issue, you might need to step back and observe. This allows you to listen to your intuition and logically decipher what’s really going on.

It’s better left unsaid. Avoid revealing irrelevant thoughts and feelings. For example, there’s no need to tell your uncle that you think his wife is unattractive and he could do better. This rule also applies when someone entrusts you with private information. If you reveal what someone has told you in confidence, they’ll have a hard time trusting you again.

You don’t have a receptive listener. There’s no use talking if the other person isn’t listening to you, because the message you’re trying to convey will not be heard.

Speak When:

You want to let your feelings known. To keep the peace, some people bottle up emotions that should be expressed. For example, if your spouse made a tactless comment about your cooking, bring it to their attention instead of stewing silently in resentment. Doing otherwise can cause your pent-up feelings to transform into a sudden burst of rage when you least expect them to.

You have the power to change something. If your words can alter a situation for the better, you should present them. For example, if your brother is wallowing in self-pity because he lost his job, you might humor him or show him the brighter side of life to lift him out of his depression.

A golden opportunity comes knocking. Missed opportunities are upsetting, even more so when one word from you could have prevented them. For instance, you were shy about approaching that guy or girl you had been crushing on for the longest time. Now they’re no longer an option because you took too long to make a move. When an opportunity presents itself, seize it by speaking up.

Your opinion is requested. Everyone has an opinion. If someone asks for yours, don’t be timid; deliver it truthfully and with diplomacy.

Grace Ferguson provides web and marketing content to private clients and online publications. She’s also a blogger at Where Change Starts, where she offers tips on business and personal improvement.

Photo credit: Richard Thomas


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

15 Responses to When to Stay Silent and When to Speak

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