We often speak impulsively without pausing to consider that our words may be inappropriate or hurtful to others. Hema Vijay meets experts who suggest simple ways that would help correct our speech habits
Most humans put their foot in their mouth occasionally, making insensitive, inane, embarrassing or infuriating comments. A few others, suffer from chronic foot-in-mouth disease (popularly called ‘CFMD’), and spend ages brooding over what they said, wishing desperately they had not said it. Of course, the time spent brooding would be better spent on thinking about those statements before making them. But this is easier said than done. However, considering that the after effects of CFMD range from momentary embarrassment and mental stress to relationship issues in the long run, it is a wonder it doesn’t get taken as seriously as other communication issues.
Behind the words
“We think we make conscious decisions, but actually, most of these decisions are made subconsciously,” says American neuro-psychiatrist and author Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell. So measured speech can’t be achieved by just monitoring words before they leave our mouth. It has to be worked on, by disciplining the mind and correcting irksome speech habits that we have picked up along the way. “Mulling over a verbal faux pas is mortifying,” agonises Ananya, reliving an embarrassing moment when she had just be)en introduced to her boss’s sister and had commented that her boss looked so like her ‘mother’. Ananya rues, “I didn’t mean to be disparaging. I said that just to fill in the silence, rather than seem non-communicative,” Well, this was a relatively insignificant faux pas. Sometimes, putting your foot in the mouth can prove to be downright troublesome.
But the good news is that a calm mind can be cultivated. Breathing exercises, what we call ‘pranayama’ (a rhythmic breathing exercise in which exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation) is one way. “In yogic philosophy, we say, ‘as the breath is, so the mind is’. When the breath becomes longer and steadier, the mind also becomes calm and steady. So if you take care of your breath, the mind is taken care of automatically. In fact, breath has a great influence on all our physiological functions, not just on the mind and emotions. A 20-minute breathing exercise session every day can improve our breathing pattern through the day, and our mind will grow calm and strong,” says Dr. N. Chandrasekaran, yoga therapist and founder, Viniyoga Healing Foundation of India. There are some quick fixes for emergencies too. “When you feel agitated, take a few seconds to watch your breath. Then take a few deep breaths; this will calm you down considerably,” advises Dr. Chandrasekaran. When we are calm, we don’t rush to make statements. Like an ace cricketer who to takes time to study the ball, rather than rush to hit it, staying calm gives you that extra moment to think of your words before they leave your mouth. Avoiding FMD situations also calls for learning and practising etiquette during a conversation: realising that it is better to stay silent than to talk nonsense; that a rejoinder is not always required for every statement made to us; that non-committal grunts and exclamations can be used to say nothing, and yet not seem to be unresponsive and aloof.
* Remember, every thought that pops up in your mind need not be translated to speech.
* Take a moment before you reply. Think of what you want to say and the possible repercussions.
* When agitated, take a few deep breaths before speaking.
* A non-committal gesture can be a polite, safe and impressive reply in many circumstances.
* Don’t get carried away by the moment and say things you wouldn’t normally say.
* Stay on guard, especially when in groups or on celebratory occasions, when we tend to lose our inhibitions.
* In case you do make a faux pas, offer an apology and move on. Don’t feel mortified. As is often said — we suffer more from our opinions than from the events (or the statements themselves, in this case).
* Writing can be a safe strategy, because it allows you to edit your words before mailing them to the recipient.
* A calm mind rarely produces muddled speech. Breathing exercises like pranayama and meditation can help you stay calm.