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Five Situations When It's Best to Stay Quiet

I’m an avid believer that some things are better off ignored than attacked. I just get too worked up when I’m in persuasive mode. But over the course of my many years of life, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s not worth it. Sometimes it’s best to stay quiet, even if you think your opinion or idea is far better than someone else’s. Not everyone needs to know!

These five tips are based solely on my own personal and professional experience. Each of them came after many frustrating and useless debates. I now find it easier and far more rewarding to be a listener. I try, not always successfully, to save my breath for those occasional opportunities where I can actually make a difference.

  1. Recognize the people with whom it’s useless to debate. We all quickly figure out these types of people. Some people teach you that it’s not worth the effort to offer an opinion that differs from their own. It might seem like they win, because everyone just backs down. But they really don’t. They lose respect. They don’t learn. They make bad managers. People will stand back and watch them fail rather than offer insight. (If you are a manager you might enjoy my next article on this subject.)

  2. Recognize red flag subjects that it’s best to avoid. You might have a friend, family member, or boss who is easy to talk to. Perhaps they are often a good listener and willing to entertain various ideas. But we all have those emotional red flag topics. We are not open to hearing anything other than what we already believe. Some people have lots of these issues. Some people have just a few. If your goal is to antagonize and watch tempers flair (like so many do on social media), then I suppose you can argue all you want…….even though it’s useless. If your goal is to help someone consider your perspective and/or to have a meaningful conversation, then it’s usually best to back off of these issues. Tip #3 might come in handy with these types of topics.

  3. Timing is everything. Don’t try to influence when you or others are angry. Even with highly emotional issues, you may be able to find just the right time and the right setting and the right mood to have that meaningful conversation.

  4. Be quiet when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Enough said. Sometimes it’s far better to just admit that you don’t know. You’ll gain respect.

  5. Recognize when you’re boring people. Sometimes people just don’t care what you have to say. And.....sometimes you're boring! It’s important to recognize boredom. Save your breath for people who care about what you have to say.

I do have to explain that I don't view myself as an effective persuader. This might have influenced my opinion on the topic of staying quiet. One particular incidence stands out in my mind. I was at a restaurant / bar with my husband and parents. It was a friend's birthday and a big cake was brought in. I, along with my mom, were asked to walk around with slices of cake and offer them to everyone there. In the end, two people accepted a slice of cake from me. As for my mom, every person she offered cake to happily took it. If I can't even persuade people to have free chocolate cake ---- geez. Anyhow, I digressed.

Although it’s important to know when to stay quiet, it’s also important to know when to speak up. It’s a fine balance. It’s just that staying quiet and listening seems to be a lost art these days. I thought I’d share some lessons. Feel free to share some of your own!


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