Finding the Right Time to Speak Your Mind

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

— Mark Twain

In some situations, it is better to keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself, rather than broadcasting them for the world to hear. This is not to say that your opinions are not valid but to illustrate that there is an appropriate time and place to air your views. You can have something extremely smart, useful or funny to say, but if you say it at an inappropriate time, you could make yourself look foolish. For example, it might not be a good idea to make jokes at your company’s board meeting, but they might be appropriate during your break with your co-workers.

Throughout history many famous, noteworthy people have taken Mark Twain’s adage to heart. These wise people knew when to talk and when to keep silent. Many leaders have to learn when to talk and when to keep silent even when it might be difficult to do so. All leaders must choose their words carefully, picking the right time to speak, so that their words can have the greatest impact.

If you learn to cultivate this skill of knowing when to hold your tongue, you will also become wise, even if people think you are not. Some people, in fact, will underestimate you because they do not know what you are thinking all the time. This can give you an advantage in many situations. When people underestimate you, they do not focus on you, leaving you to make and execute plans without scrutiny.

In addition to flying under the radar, if you think before you speak, you can also improve your listening skills, which is a very important and useful skill to have. Listening is another key trait for a leader to have, and it is harder to achieve than many people think. First, you have to be quiet, and then you have to listen attentively, with all your attention on what the person is saying to be a good listener. When you learn to stop and think before you speak and when you learn to become a good listener you will be well on your way to becoming a good leader. By being able to listen to the people that work with you and for you, you will be able to make informed decisions.

In the end, it is always better to let someone think you are foolish than to say something at the wrong time and prove that you are foolish. Will you take the time to improve your listening skills?

Dominique Brown writes at If you enjoyed this article, you may wish to visit his website and subscribe to his RSS feed and follow him on twitter at Motivatingw0rds (yes that’s a zero after the w)

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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.

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