The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms defines the phrase to “let someone have it” as originating in the mid-1800s and meaning “to give a beating, scolding or punishment.” While “bite your tongue” is defined as “refrain from speaking out,” this term alludes to holding the tongue between the teeth in an effort not to say something one might regret. Shakespeare wrote about biting your tongue in “Henry VI” in the 1500s. So, we can comfortably conclude that these idioms have remained in use for centuries now! One idiom grants permission to assault, while the other reminds us that, just because a thought occurs in your head, does not mean it should come out of your mouth!
How do both idioms impact your communication and, ultimately, your career plan? The answer is… significantly! What you CHOOSE to say, when you CHOOSE to say it, and how you CHOOSE to say it impacts every part of life. Our focus here will be the impact within the workplace, but trust me, the same principles apply to our private lives. The ability to communicate positively determines both your advancement and your level of enjoyment during your work time… perhaps even more than your intelligence, education or experience.
Let’s begin with a look at the front line of today’s contact centers. In many cases, frontline folks manage multiple contact channels (i.e., voice, chat and email, with social media and video on the way). Regardless of industry, these contacts deliver customers to the contact center in various states of mind and mood. One may be as happy as the next is nasty; but the expectation is for the front line to treat ALL contacts well. At the core is the objective to identify and solve business problems by using a variety of communication tools. Choosing to “let ’em have it” may have some momentary, twisted pleasure but “biting your tongue” introduces a discipline that is critical to long-term success.
Frontline agents who choose to indulge their self-righteous indignation by letting customers know they must be “stupid” (for whatever reason) are not likely on the fast track to advancement. Those who claim that the caller’s attitude is the reason for their display of arrogance have essentially confessed to an inability to manage the interaction. They may actually be better suited for another job, preferably one that does NOT involve human interaction. And here’s the thing… service jobs ARE the economy for many folks. Demonstrating an inability to communicate effectively severely limits opportunities.
“Biting your tongue” mitigates “letting ’em have it.” What this requires first and foremost is paying attention to your internal dialogue when frustration, stress or anxiety is present. We tell ourselves, “This stinks,” “Nobody cares about me anyway,” “These stupid customers just don’t get it,” “I’m not going to put up with this,” etc., etc. The only result of this type of internal dialogue is that it escalates the condition and collects ammunition for the “let ’em have it” gun! If you have a true interest in reducing stress and improving your options for advancement, it is time to practice “biting your tongue.” When you actually interrupt your own inner chatter and redirect yourself to serve the greater good, the options expand for more advancement, satisfaction and contentment.
Managers and coaches also need to examine their communication style to be effective and credible. The job of leaders is to gather the qualities and skills of their constituents to address the needs of the business. Leaders must be mindful; it is critical to exercise the ability to manage how messages come across and how they are received. “Biting your tongue” is most needed when your internal dialogue is moving you to a place of bullying, rage or intimidation. (These are the outbursts we most often regret; they diminish leadership effectiveness.)
It takes a mindful person to invest the time and energy to embrace the benefits of “biting your tongue,” particularly in the workplace. The first requirement to being effective is desire or intention. Daniel Goleman, in his work on Emotional Intelligence, characterizes the first and second level of emotional intelligence as self-awareness and subsequent self-regulation. It is not always easy to move away from established patterns of behavior; however, your desired future state depends on it! If you adopt a positive approach at work, the effects will also be apparent in your private life. Is it really necessary to tell your child, spouse or partner that they are washing the dishes wrong? Or should you just be happy with the fact that they are that they are washing the dishes? Think about the peace of mind that may emerge from “biting your tongue.”
There is only one person responsible for communication effectiveness. It is ourselves; we are that one person responsible for tending the path to whatever success means to us.