Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Speak for long term


I never would have imagined that I could take home a profound religious lesson from a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article. We all know that backbiting is bad and we often heard from Sufi gurus the importance of talking less, but having read an article in HBR, I realized better the weight of our spoken words.

In 'How to Speak More Strategically', Peter Bregman described what he had learned while having a sore throat.   Naturally, when we have a sore throat we speak very little and listen more. Bregman noticed that  people speak for three main reasons: "to help ourselves, to help others and to connect with each other." However, in reality when we speak we tend to do the opposite of all those. We talk to gossip about other people to feel good about ourselves, that we are better than that person and we do it so that we could connect with the other gossipers. In truth, we stray from the real purpose of talking 'to connect with each other' because by gossiping or backbiting we actually distance ourselves from the person we gossip about and our fellow gossipers might well turn their back against us sooner or later.

Bregman also felt that he had the urge to be helpful to people by sharing information with them. But then again he realized while doing so he often would speak to show that he knows something, so that people would give their attention to him, so that he would increase his influence in his group, so that people would like him and respect him. In short, he ended up projecting the image of a show-off guy. 

Having a sore throat gave him the opportunity to observe how people speak and evaluating his own speaking habits (which we all could relate to) he concluded that: "We often speak to make ourselves feel better in the short-term."  This poses a problem because life and relationships are long term. Backbiting, raising one's voice, offering unsolicited opinions, making jokes about others etc. are not going to add value to our life and relationships in the long run.

My own conclusion from Bregman's article: when we are about to open our mouth, pause and think if the words we are about to utter could benefit others and ourselves in the long term. Would it be useful for the other person? Would it make him/her happy? Would it improve the situation? Let's try to be more calculative about the contents and quantity of our spoken words. Cut all the craps, speak little and speak pearls. Think long term.


  1. as-salam alaykum

    A sufi addagio says: "You have one mouth and two ears, so listen the double of you speak". And sidi Abu Madyan al-Gauth said: "Silence is salvation". There is a very nice commentary to this by the shayj al-Alawi, Gob have mercy on both of them. It's a pity I don't have it translated into English...
    Wonderful blog. May Allah reward you by your effort and increase you in kowledge and nearness.

  2. Alaykumsalam dear Sidi,
    Thank you for sharing and more importantly for your prayers for me! Please may I ask for your continued du'a for I am so weak and needy.