The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell…but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:6,8
Entrepreneurs and apostles are decision-makers, fast acting, passionate people. We have ideas, we want to be heard. However, sometimes the best way to move people forward is knowing when to shut up. Cultivating our ability to hold our tongue is important. Solomon tells us Even fools are thought to be wise when they keep silent; when they keep their mouths shut, they seem intelligent. (Proverbs 17:28 Living Bible)
Make no mistake, this is something I still struggle with every day. Personally I review a verse or more on the tongue nearly every day, so after 40 years of struggling in this area here’s my advice:
1. Remember, criticism is not meant to hurt, it’s meant to help. It’s never about me. It’s always about Jesus and striving to become more like Him. In nearly every criticism there is at least one nugget of truth. Mine that truth. Pray about it. Humble yourself, and ask the person how to communicate better.
2. Pick up the phone. It’s easier to miscommunicate over email. You’ll strengthen your relationships by clarifying what you and the person you’re in disagreement with really mean simply by picking up the phone. I have misinterpreted what people have written to me in emails on many occasions. When it comes to sensitive issues in particular — talk it out; don’t just email.
3. Hit “delete.” Sometimes we need to vent. That’s one purpose of having a mentor, he’s someone you can vent with. Yet the idea that anyone can win an argument via email or over the Internet is laughable. It’s taken me many years, but I think the best way to respond to my critics is by following Jesus’ example before Pilate by not saying anything at all. Even if you’re calm, collected and reasonable, whatever you write will only fuel the fire. Nowadays I answer my critics, but the email never leaves my computer. If you choose not to engage, you’ll be surprised how quickly the conversation dies. Dying to self includes letting go of the right to win every argument.
4. Let go of the need to have the last word. It’s better to fly under the radar. You may feel great about getting in one last jab, but more likely than not, someone else is going to remember your flippant comment long after you do and it will come back to haunt you. We are commanded to seek ways to humble ourselves (1 Peter 5:6). As my mentor reminds me, I am not learning anything new when I am talking.
5. Embrace the idea that sometimes, less is more. We’ve all been in meetings where someone asks a simple question and the person in charge goes on and on unnecessarily in response. Remember that most questions can be answered simply. Remind yourself. Everyone you work with will appreciate your ability to be concise. And frankly, it’s also polite. We like the sound of our own voices more than other people do. Study Jesus’ replies to people, He was a master at giving short answers.
6. Awkward silences are helpful. When it comes to the art of negotiation, whether in business or in relationships, I’ve learned a simple truth: Never speak first. When we’re uncomfortable with an awkward silence, it’s tempting to fill it quickly, but if you do, you might end up saying something without thinking it through. Going into tense meetings I’ve discovered that the first person to speak usually loses the argument. So be confident yet force yourself to wait for others to play their cards before you play yours.
7. Ask for help. Those who really care will help. For years several “friends” criticized my inability to control my tongue, but not once did they offer to work with me on improving my attitude or my tone of voice, in fact often they rebuked me without even telling me what was wrong. They assumed I understood my own communication problem. Those who really want you to succeed don’t assume you understand your own blind spots and how to correct them. They work with you to improve, they earnestly desire you to be more like Jesus. They don’t just rebuke, but ala 2 Tim 3:16&17 they correct and give instruction so as to assist you in fulfilling His assignment in your life.