[Guide] How to think before you speak

It’s normal for people to say whatever is on their minds. Whether it’s relationships, at work, or being a parent, most people believe that being candid with speech is the best way to express yourself and “your truth”. And while being candid has its place, the reality is that we’re only human, liable to say things we don’t mean, especially when we’re emotional. This is where thinking before you speak has its place. Thinking before you speak is a special kind of guardrail around negative emotions or situations that might produce accidents, like saying something you don’t mean when you’re angry. 

Why you should think before you speak: the core benefits

You won’t react impulsively towards others when you’re emotional

We’ve all been in situations where we said something we didn’t mean to a partner or a co-worker. Chances are a powerful emotion dominated your consciousness, and before you know it you’ve said something you regretted.

But if you take the time to pause before you say something, you give yourself time to realize how you feel. And once you realize how you feel, you should either just stop speaking until the emotion has passed, or very carefully take the time to collect your thoughts and then speak consciously.

You will think more clearly

When you stop and think, you will inevitably think of multiple different alternative things to say. Merely having more options allows you to select the one that you think is best, which means you’ll pick a phrase or sentence that better approximates the truth. And getting closer to the truth is a great step towards thinking more clearly.

You will listen and learn more

The more you hesitate before you speak, the better the odds you have of other people interjecting first. People don’t like feeling uncomfortable in social situations, and silence is one of the biggest ways people feel awkward. So the less you speak, the more people will want to fill in the gaps for you. Which in turn exposes you to new data more frequently. Speaking to other people might help you think, but listening provides you with more information, and therefore an increased likelihood that you’ll learn something.

You give a better impression to others

A person’s impression of you can be approximated by the sum of the interactions they have with you, the observations they have of you, and what they hear about you from others. Some might stand out more than others, but usually, people will weigh interactions closely to even.

So if you are more careful with what you say, then your odds of saying something thoughtful, helpful, funny, or otherwise increase. Which changes the data set other people to have of you through their impressions. That in turn improves the odds they’ll have a set of data points about you and from others that give a better impression.

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How to stop and think before you speak

The process of thinking before you speak is simple, yet difficult to implement in practice because you usually have multiple social interactions in a day.

Step 1: Pause before you speak

Usually, 1-5 seconds is enough. Pause enough to collect your thoughts. If you’re responding to what someone said, think about what they said first.

Step 2: Think about what to say

  1. Let alternative ways to answer a question, respond, or a statement that comes to mind. Think of two to five things to say.
  2. Pick the one you think is the best way to phrase it. 
  3. Do one pass in your head on the chosen statement, changing important words if they better approximate the truth.

Step 3: Speak slowly and carefully

Slow down your speech to about 75% of how fast you’d have a candid conversation with friends. As you’re speaking, you’re still processing your thoughts, so chances are that you may still need to pause for a second or half-second to modify what you are going to say as you say it. There’s nothing wrong with slowing down your speech, as it often makes the retention on the audience’s end higher because they have less they need to add into their working memory at any given time.

If you have to speak, use the T.H.I.N.K framework first

Go through this checklist before speaking, especially when you’re emotional. The two most important things to remember from this framework are: is it true and is it helpful?

  1. T: Is it True?
  2. H: Is it Helpful?
  3. I: Is it Inspiring?
  4. N: Is it Necessary?
  5. K: Is it Kind?


There are huge benefits to thinking before you speak, including being able to think more clearly and learn more from others. All it takes is you pausing and collecting your thoughts, and then doing some simple processing on your thoughts before you speak.

FAQ’s about thinking before speaking

Should you always think before you speak?

No. There’s a time and place before thinking before you speak, usually in more formal settings or when your emotions are high. When you’re relaxed with friends, you can say whatever is on your mind, especially if you have no risk of offending them. So there aren’t any hard and fast rules about when you should think before you speak, you’ll just learn from experience and testing on where it’s appropriate.

How long should you pause before speaking?

2 seconds is usually enough. If you are feeling emotional or need more time, it’s important to communicate firsthand that you need more time to speak. Taking 10 or even 20 seconds is better when you are under stress or high emotions because your mind is doing a lot of wrestling with your emotions and will therefore inhibit your ability to think quickly.

How do I learn to think before I speak?

  1. Pause before you speak
  2. Think about what to say
  3. Speak slowly and carefully
  4. Practice steps 1-3 until it becomes a habit.

To naturally think before you speak, you need to build it like you would any other habit. So reinforcing the habit through repetition is the best way. Once you get the benefits of thinking before you speak, the process will become easier over time.

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