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Updated: Mar 16, 2023

We are told to "think before you speak." During these emotional times in our neighborhoods, our marriages, our friendships, this axiom is even more important. What exactly does this mean? How are we to do it?

"THINK" is a slogan associated with the American multinational technology company IBM. The "THINK" slogan was first used by Thomas J. Watson, chairman and CEO of IBM from 1914-1956. At an uninspiring sales meeting, Watson interrupted, saying "The trouble with every one of us is that we don't think enough." Asked later what he meant by the slogan, Watson replied, "By THINK I mean take everything into consideration" (my emphasis). Taking "everything" into consideration is not practical or even possible when our words are birthed out of emotion, as they are so often.

Here is a more helpful way to shape your thoughts before speaking. This skill is used in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). DBT is a skill-based therapy which primarily teaches us how to regulate our intense emotions and thus improve our interpersonal relationships. The THINK skill is used to help us move from an emotionally charged impulsive place (how hasn't been there?!) to a wiser, more rational place before we speak.

Use one of these quick questions to assess your thoughts before you speak to your child, your spouse, your neighbor, or the stranger in the grocery store.

T--- is it true?

H---is it helpful?

I----is it inspiring?

N-- is it necessary?

K---is it kind?

One of these questions may help you more in one relationship than another. I try to use "K" with my husband (wonderful for creating a positive vibe between us), "N" with my adult daughter (cuts way down on stuff I would otherwise say to her), and "H" to those whom I cross paths with in public (great way to pay forward random acts of helpfulness that I undeservedly receive).

Many years ago I found this sign in an antique store. I had no idea what its purpose was for IBM employees, but I was instinctively drawn to it. I have placed it on every work desk that I have had in my career as a psychotherapist, leader, and teacher. It has served me well.

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