How to keep your mouth shut

I have a genetic disorder known as “can not keep my mouth shut.” If I think someone isn’t being honest, or even if I just disagree with them strongly, my arm raises, and my mouth engages, well before my brain can calculate the possible damage.

I have been in recovery for years and am here to share what I’ve learned.

As a rule, if you insist on speaking your mind, you will inevitably find yourself in an environment where everyone hates you. Most people can not handle the truth. And the more you shove it in their face, the easier it is for them to ignore you. You simply become the person who always complains, rendering any good ideas you have entirely impotent. Your ideas will be shot down simply because of the reputation of the mouth they come from.

The trick to keeping your mouth shut is to hold the desire to effect change above your desire to tell people how wrong and bad they are. The later almost never leads to the former.

Back in my early days at Microsoft I worked on strong, confident teams where you were expected to have opinions. If you saw something stupid happening you were obligated to raise your hand, say “I think this is stupid and here’s why.” If you were right, you were applauded no matter how senior the people in the room were. I argued with group managers, VPs, and many other scary, tough, smart people more senior than I, and in the culture this was fine, provided I had a point and made it well. If I was wrong, I’d be dismissed, but not roasted. I might even have gotten a small pat on the back later for at least not being afraid. I thrived in this environment and assumed this was how the world worked.

But later,  in a new job at Microsoft in a group known as MSTE, I discovered a world of dysfunction, despair and passive/aggression. No one spoke their mind in public. Few people worked hard or asked tough questions. Quality of work, and morale, was low.  I felt obligated to mention these facts as often and as loudly as possible to leadership. I even expected to be rewarded for telling people how bad things were. Why wouldn’t they want to hear this? I thought.

Before I knew it, I was that guy. The guy who always complains.

In my egocentric view, the work around me was well beneath the bar. And from previous experience i felt obligated to help raise the level of work. I expected to be applauded for pointing these things out. It was a kind of leadership action in my mind. But I didn’t stop to think the group had its own bar, and it was not my job to set it.

It took months of misery to sort out I was in a different culture with different expectations. Hell, it blew my mind to realize there were other cultures at all. To achieve the same positive effects my opinionated nature had on the earlier group, I’d have to adopt a very different approach.

I also realized in the past, in other groups, progress happened not simply because I was right and took a stand (as much as my ego wished it to be true). It happened because my boss, or his/her boss, listened to my points and took action, or granted me the power to do so. Having an idea changes nothing unless someone with sufficient power, and genuine interest, does something about it. The idea alone is never enough. Nor is saying it out loud.

In the movie Glengarry Glenn Ross, Blake (played by Alec Baldwin) gives perhaps the meanest lecture of all time to a bunch of salesmen. Why is this lecture possible? Why didn’t they ignore him or beat him up? Is it Alec’s strong chin and trim physique? No, it’s because the owners of the company asked him to do it. He’s allowed to open his mouth, and speak a certain kind of truth, however unnecessarily mean and adversarial it is, because he has the support of the people in power (You can watch this amazing scene here – NSFW). You could never successfully behave this way unless someone with more power then you allowed you to.

Glengarry-Glen-Ross-Grab_510x317

There’s another scene in Glengarry Glen Ross, where a salesman (played in the movie by Al Pacino) yells at the sale manager (played by Kevin Spacey), never to open your mouth until you know the shot. If you don’t know the angle being played, anything you say might ruin the plan (you can watch the scene here).

This is a great rule to follow before you raise objections or offer big ideas. No matter how right you are, if you care about effecting change, you should never open your mouth without some sense of who will agree with you and who won’t. If you can anticipate the angles and responses, and judge, even by guessing, if there is a 80%, 20% or 0% percent chance anyone in good standing will follow your lead in support of what you say, you know whether it’s worth opening your mouth. It’s a world of difference of perception when someone respected says, after you speak, “he might be right” and when there’s only silence. And of course, in most cases your percentages go up if you raise your objections in private, rather than in a large meeting where egos are at stake.

These days, as an independent, I’m invited to visit and speak to different groups every week, in different cities and countries around the world. I depend on my ability to evaluate the culture I’m in each and every time.

Of course there are times when the BS has piled up too high and you have to speak the truth no matter the consequences. Forcing an issue can be the only way to get it the attention it deserves. But pick your battles. If a year goes by and you haven’t taken a single stand, I’d likely call you a coward (Nothing in 12 months was worth making a stink over? You have to draw your sword now and then to remind people you have one). But if you’re taking a stand every day, you’re either a glutton for punishment, an egomaniac, or too stupid to realize you’re working for the wrong people.

How to say things well, including the tough stuff, is another matter entirely and one I’ll save for another post.

Meanwhile, to help with my own recovery: how do you decide when to open your mouth, and when to keep it shut? At work or at home?

132 Responses to “How to keep your mouth shut”

  1. Andrea

    I found this blog by typing in “how to keep your mouth shut” because I’ve found myself many time thinking “why can’t I just keep my damn mouth shut- ugh!”… this was like reading a post I might have made, but written way better than I would have with a slightly higher level of intelligence than I possess. I’ve always had this idealism of speaking telling the truth of what I really think, sometimes I wish I was just good at bs’ing or charming people instead, I think I would be doing better financially if I was better at the later.

    Reply
    1. Chad

      Well maybe it would work better if we talked 812-896-5685 maybe we can find out more.. The reason i responded to you is because of how you wrote..reminded me of my trype peaple..that’s the first since I’ve been here
      K

      Reply
    2. Mirella Amaral

      OMG! same! I just get in so many drama at school because i cant keep my big mouth shut i have searched for many tips to stop being a big mouth but i just cant! I just can help it…… i got threatned b4 at school that i was gonna get beat up! but i need to find ways to stop with my big mouth… UGHHHHHHH!

      Reply
      1. TERI

        I feel for you, you are a lot younger than me if you are still in school. My mouth got me in trouble a lot when I was younger. It is still a struggle to go with the flow and keep everything to myself w out speaking my mind a little. Being at work watching a bunch of idiots thinking they are smarter than everyone kills me!!! I could write a book..lol….I try to meditate for 10 minutes every morning before going inside work. I pray to God to give me the strength to keep quiet.

        Reply
  2. Diana

    Well, Scott, you’ve just won a good place on my favourites bar :).

    Reply
  3. beckhud

    Oh, how I love the way you all use beautiful and perfect words and wish I had that gift. Just realizing that PTA and soccer moms have the exact problem you men have in the corporate world. Wish I could keep my mouth shut when other kids are bullies and I feel like punching their bully dads too. I loved reading this blog. l

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  4. stephanie

    Lol I don’t know how I contracted the disorder lol guess i’m the first in line of genetics. Sure hope my daughter doesn’t get it! My big mouth gets me in trouble all the time. My husband hates it and we argue and afterwards I feel like a total dummy. :/ Tonight we were arguing about whether landlords pay to fix damage that tenants cause in the home. He said yes and I said… I don’t think so. Big argument and once again I feel dumb over something so stupid that doesn’t even matter. I feel like it’s hurting our relationship. I don’t want him to stop being happy with me.

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  5. stephanie

    Lol I don’t know how I contracted the disorder lol guess i’m the first in line of genetics. Sure hope my daughter doesn’t get it! My big mouth gets me in trouble all the time. My husband hates it and we argue and afterwards I feel like a total dummy. :/ Tonight we were arguing about whether landlords pay to fix damage that tenants cause in the home. He said yes and I said… I don’t think so. Big argument and once again I feel dumb over something so stupid that doesn’t even matter. I feel like it’s hurting our relationship. I don’t want him to stop being happy with me!

    Reply
  6. Samantha

    Awesome post. I am so thankful for your honesty.
    I am 43 and love people and hate people at the same time. And, just like in this post already, I exaggerate and say “hate” when I just mean that people just drive me bonkers.
    Ugh.
    I am definitely a big giant work in progress, and for the first time ever Googled “how to keep your mouth shut.” I have just worn myself out. I am so tired of being misunderstood by people.
    So, I must make a change, and finding your post tonight has inspired me and I do hope that I can find peace in this area of my life. Like I said, I am just worn out. Seriously. I am emotionally drained.
    So, here’s to change. I am hopeful. And scared. And even frustrated. Sigh.
    Night night.

    Reply
    1. sandy

      I have made myself sick. I was sitting here next to my husband he is watching TV and I was cruising ebay and then I decided to open a new tab and google “how to keep your mouth shut”. I go back to work in a week and I have to learn to keep my mouth shut. The person with the power sets the bar – that person is the only one who can move it. Lot of good info here.

      Reply
  7. jane

    After just having a three month apprasial at work. My boss told me at first I was doing ok . I was asked if there was anything that inhibbited me and i said yes being bawled out by her in an open office. I dont think she liked this point. But i was at the point of walking out so i though i mention ed it. Then she pointedly told me at althougth the end of the meeting that im to keep my mouth shut , not express any opinion, ask enquiring questions. ! she said people have been saying ‘what the fuck am i on about’ . even though she gave it as advice. i ve been upset ever since. I have never been asked to keep my mouth shut. The negativity within the company was just abotu bearable now after this its impossible…… i read your piece. it makes sense but hard to swollow. Freedom of speech is also part of our identity. i just had my identity taken away

    Reply
    1. Janny

      Just have to say this, b/c it’s just the plain old truth.
      There is NO SUCH THING AS FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN THE WORKPLACE.
      For the time you are at work, and with only a few exceptions–EEOC issues, out and out illegal activity, etc, You, for the time on the job essentially belong to the employer. Isn’t At-Will-Employment fun?

      Reply
  8. sandy

    Wow,
    Both of your microsoft examples fit my situation perfectly.

    I am a teacher and spent 11 years in an open and creative environment. I am now in a place where creativity is discouraged. I am beginning my 4th year and I have to learn to keep my mouth shut. I go back in a week. I love my kids (students) and it is very hard not to fight for them when they come to you for help. I feel like I let them down when I don’t speak up for them.

    Reply
  9. Mark Dunne

    I wish i could master this. I know it is my short coming as a manager, but i just can not get a handle on it. It has caused countless drama and additional unnecessary stresses in my life and at all cost i must get control. I guess it is simply just a case of think before you speak, but sometimes i think it through and come to this… (excuse the french) “Fuck this, why should i have to change who i am to please the people around me, is it not their problem if they choose to react or object, its not like i am not being honest”

    So to close, I believe don’t change yourself to fit in with your environment, change your environment to fit in with you… Still trying to find a way to do that haha. Maybe i am just being arrogant, and maybe this shows my inexperience as i am a young manager. Please correct me if you share a different opinion

    Reply
  10. Rachel

    I’ve been awake since 4 am , my sleeplessness is a result of evaluating myself as a person who notoriously speaks her mind on the subject of truth. I am struggling to find peace in my heart that will allow me to accept and ignore the stupidity, carelessness, and blatant poor behavior of so many people I come into contact with, including my neighbor and a couple of family members. So I typed in ” how do I keep my mouth shut” and I’m taking away that yes , I in fact care more about the truth than I care if I’m accepted by the people . Thanks for the information, its calming to know I’m hardly the only one who shares the gift of ” saying it how it is”.

    Reply
    1. J. Ann

      Like another commenter I literally searched “how to keep my mouth shut” and landed on this article! Thank you for writing it as we share the same disorder. I have thought about my situation SO MUCH because I know exactly when I’m screwing up but yet can’t seem to let-the-damn-thing (“thing”being whatever stupidity is in my face at the moment) go. My husband says that I have incredibly high expectations – apparently so high that hardly anyone or anything can meet them. I don’t disagree with him but I do believe there are too many workplace/education/social environments where standards have disappeared. Maybe it was the way I was raised that makes me different…no matter, I’ll keep working at it because being “that guy” doesn’t help anybody.

      Reply
      1. Brenda

        I did exactly the same thing just now after yet again, opening up my mouth when shocked by the comments my boss has made recently. I have been told by him many times not to challenge him.But I don’t view it as challenging him and I guess that is also part of the problem. I was wondering if I need cognitive therapy or something. Now, I am thinking we all just need a support group.

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        1. Malmouth

          Wow, so glad I stumbled upon this website. I am one of those who says what’s on their mind, but I think I’m also pretty fair; I don’t go running my mouth about everyone else for every little ‘wrong’ thing they’re doing, like playing on their cellphones at work. Yet that is exactly what’s happened to me in a new department at my hospital. I step away to call and check on family or go into the break room to talk to my mother — mind you, not more than just a few minutes — and now I’ve been written up! How do you work in a place where it feels like those in charge are ‘out to get you’? I’ve never felt that way at work before, like there’s not ANYONE in my corner.

          Reply
          1. teri

            Malmouth, do you still work there? I have the same problem at my job. I feel trapped there b/c I have been there for over 7 years and don’t want to lose my pay or benefits, but I have to struggle every day to try not to speak my mind and watch every word I say. I also have no one on my side, everyone only cares about themselves and a lot of back stabbers. I would love to find a new job w/out taking a paycut!

      2. Maria

        I would like to ask if you think you are a highly sensitive person. I believe I am and it contributed to my inability to shut my mouth. I have stumbled upon this and your description of yourself, or as others have pointed out to you, could be my own words. I have become “that gal” in groups with which I work (or ha, have tried to work). It is a horrible feeling to know you have something to offer but since I have offered too much in the past nobody wants to listen to anything I have to offer.

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    2. TD

      I played Div I sports and I had a coach that I ended up disagreeing with more often than not. My immature attitude at the time was that I needed to let her know that she was wrong at all times and I needed to stand up for my teammates when she was coming down on them for reasons I thought were wrong. Why did I think this? I felt that my teammates would view me as the one that wasn’t afraid to speak out and that they’d recognize me as the one that would stand up for them when they wouldn’t even stand up for themselves.

      After 3 years of doing this, the only thing that I was accomplishing was creating a ton of friction and stress between my coach and myself who just thought I was a know-it-all who would never listen to anything she said. She’d shut me down whether I was right or not at that point. My teammates were afraid to tell me much of anything for fear that I’d berate them, too. And it wasn’t like they were backing me up either when I “needed it”.

      When you have something to say, think about what your goal is. What are you going to accomplish by telling them they’re an idiot? Is it to make them feel like an idiot, or are they honestly going to take your words to heart and learn from them? Probably neither. They probably just think you’re a know-it-all jerkface who won’t shut the f#$% up. It’s very easy to want to “teach them a lesson”. But, if you don’t come across it in the right way, it’s really just polarizing and puts them on the defensive …maybe forever

      Reply
      1. Cat

        @TD I am totally with you on this. You’ve described my situation exactly. I’m searching for answers and so far all I can come up with is that I may benefit from therapy. If you find any good information on the subject, please share? The search continues.

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      2. rachel

        thank you so much for your honesty. you are totally correct!

        Reply
    3. megan

      I understand were your coming from and I tottaly agree
      but another thing that I just had in mind is,how you tell people things how you speak it to them in a literal way or how blunt you are. And also know how contain your mouth in certain situations , you don’t want to always state your mind on everything that’s why god made it the way were we can think inside our heads were no one can hear us lol what do you think?

      Reply
    4. Kim

      Rachel, I know exactly how you feel and did the exact same thing after being told I will never go anywhere in the company I work, by a colleague, because I speak the truth. The problem is my truth is very similar to your truth which isn’t the ass kissing truth everyone is feeding the owners!! People only want to hear their truth not the real truth!! UGH!!

      Reply
      1. rachel

        I’ve been in the same situation. I left. But I learned a lot. There are still those issues everywhere. I’m trying my best to think like this: “I really need to focus on myself and only find improvement for me. Fuck the rest of them” ha ha. But really who cares? Get distractions in your life that are meaningful. Then you just won’t care so much. The only way to have it all is have your own company and be your boss. I have lots of opinions. All correct. :)

        Reply
    5. iam

      I admire your thoughts in this comment, from what it seems theres a community of people who speak the truth no matter what the case is and prefer to stick by it.
      I for one look at this as a good method for growth, if everyone spoke the truth and gave each other feedback i believe the world would be a better place, but unfortunately it seems people often live their lives in a fantasy so hearing the truth they may see it as tearing them down. Actually what you are doing is tearing down the illusion. So in a world like this you are told its best to keep your mouth shut and that maybe true, but it seems it also means accept all the illnesses from not effectively speaking the truth brings.
      I wonder what it would be like if you took all truth speakersand place them in a community for themselves for a few weeks or a few months to interact as they truthfully would what would be the result.

      Reply
  11. sara cannon

    Love this. Such a complicated matter – and it’s also hard for people to know when to speak up where praise and positive speech is due, without shortchanging themselves or others in the process. And, sometimes over-humility – not opening your mouth – can lead to decreased worth in the eyes of others. I think confidence plays a huge huge roll here, but its true that its a balancing act. :) thanks for the post!

    Reply
  12. ZAM

    Brilliant read!
    Finding the right time to make the move, is surely something everyone should practise and perform. But the tendency to open up and stand against wrong things happening around urges to move ahead and do it.
    And more often as mentioned you will be labelled as ‘the guy who always complains’ if you do that.

    Situations mentioned here can be related a lot. Thanks Scott!

    Reply
  13. raj

    This is a great article. I had a boss similar to that. The people under him some are way underpar. The simple rule of thumb existed. 20% do the work and 80% enjoy by talking. Lot of whiners in the 80% and talk how they are overworked and do nothing for the company. I do got impacted by the stupidity of my boss who got fired later and the remaining 80% is still enjoy the talking. I am a firm believer of walk the talk. People find 100 reasons not to do a thing and not even find 1 reason to do the right thing.

    Reply
  14. Anna

    This seems to be the issue with me. I do happen to speak before I think, more so at work. Me and my husband work together as a management couple, so really we need to be on the same page about certain things. This however is not always the case. We are very different. He is quite quiet and I am out spoken, and some times we clash on how we deal with a situation and what we prioritise. We seem to always argue about work and he claims that he is only telling me his feelings because he wants to help and that he is sick of hearing our staff complaining about me (apparently this happens more often than not according to my husband. Yes, I do not always consider all things before I open my mouth but this doesn’t happen all of the time, and I know that for sure. However, it’s like I have a reputation for it now so it doesn’t matter what I do he always thinks that it is my mouth that has got me into trouble. So what do I do now????Any ideas??? I thought I was getting better, but apparently not.

    Reply
  15. Nonamerequired

    “The trick to keeping your mouth shut is to hold the desire to effect change above your desire to tell people how wrong and bad they are. The later almost never leads to the former”

    It takes a good minute to wrap my head around this.

    Reply
  16. Frank

    This article summarizes my frustration with the corporate world completely. I have lost jobs because of my condition. I have trampled upon egos and intimidated the paranoid and insecure for 5 different companies in the last ten years in an effort to “make a difference”….and every time it ends the same way…..with me on the outside looking in. I have heard it from managers, Vice Presidents, directors and even owners, “Frank. You’re right…..but sometimes its better just to leave it alone.” So, the problem is them and not me, right? It sure doesnt feel that way. Glad I found this article…a big help.

    Reply
  17. Debi Silverman

    I, too, searched on the term “How to keep my mouth shut” tonight after my 4 month review at a new job. There are rumors that I am “mean”. I received several “needs improvement”s in areas including supervision and communication and several other areas related to these, all boiling down to the same issue of what I say and how I say it. I have another disease that has to do with wanting things to be factually correct. However, I have a boss who doesn’t really care about that issue if, heaven forbid, I have committed the crime of questioning a process to better understand it so I can carry it out. Instead of letting it go, though, unfortunately, I feel I have to have my side heard which is when the problems occur. My tone is different and people accuse me of yelling at them. Damn. I didn’t even raise my voice. I am told to be quiet and watch and learn, but I was hired because of my perspective and intelligence. Seems like a contradiction to me. And I only have a doctorate in the subject. I have never been in a job where I felt like such a failure, like everywhere I turn, it’s the wrong way.

    Reply
    1. Jez

      Amazing isn’t how companies profess to employ you for your “go get it attitude” and then can’t cope when you use that strategy.

      I have found that most of our Senior Managers have been employed based on the time they have been employed and not on their ability (lack of in most cases) to do the job. Then when people like us come along we are an immediate threat to them and this is when they try and introduce processes to control you rather than having the confidence to let you fly – making them successful on the way. Those types of manager implement processes that can actually make a business top heavy with admin but they think it shows the hierarchy they are doing something. They then inform you that things will now be a certain way without discussion (mainly because they lack confidence in telling you face to face as its easy to rip their new methodology apart) normally by email. We will always frighten these people so we need to find confident people to work for. I thought I had this but since a raft of people have left they have filled positions from the ” I’ve been here years” brigade so will be looking shortly for new pastures

      Reply
  18. Moody

    Yes, for me keeping my mouth shut is the most difficult thing in the world, especially at work.

    I have found just 1 solution, you have to become your own boss. By that I mean learn enough to start and rum your own business.

    I do not yet run my own business, but I am close to launching it. Every day at work is easier because I am one day closer. Why am I closer? Because i work at maximum capacity for 40 percent of the day doing work things and then 60 percent doing research and other tasks that I need for myself. Thats enough to keep me from getting fired, but I am learning a ton.

    So when someone is doing something dumb, inefficient, just plain wrong and telling me to do it the same way I smile and say yes boss. I smile because I know that this dumb way will mess up the system and cause even more dow time. And i will be studying on my employers dime.

    So it my employer wants to do things stupidly and not listen to my input, no problem. After a while I learned that keeping quiet actually creates more time for me to study. I dont have to ise my mental resources on tasks that habe no benefit to my future.

    You would be surprised how much you can accomplish with online courses. Especially if you are interested in anything at all to do with the web. Design, programming, finance, marketing, etc. You can learn it all while sitting at work.

    Your employer tracks your screen? Print it out or print it out at home and bring it in. Trust me its not that hard.

    People here talk about how things at work are so bad and poorly run. I say do a better job yourself. At the moment I have started contracting on the side. Doing work for a handful of clients. I have not built up enough clients to quit but in 6 months I think I will be ready to work for myself full time.

    As you may have guessed i do most of the outside work right at my day job. I do exactly what my company does, just on a smaller scale. I created SOPs and outsource the grunt work.

    The jackasses wanted me to just do what I was told. When you take an ambitious person and tell them that you create problems. Now they habe a direct competitor and my goal is to wipe out the company i work for in 4 years.

    Thing is that even a midsized corporation thats technology based has a hard time changing course when things go wrong. They have an even more difficult time when an insider knows all of their proprietary information and is going to crush then with it.

    So if you think things can be done better, DO IT. I know you can do it, but you will have to break some rules. If you cant stomach that then you are a loser. Sorry, people here talk about hard truths right? This is one of them.

    If you are afraid to take a risk then you will be getting shut up by someone else your whole life. Plus the stess is literally going to break you down and kill you piece by piece until you are a hopeless broken soul. So take a risk. If you are young and have some time take a smaller more conservative risk. If you are older take a big risk. Chances are you dont have much quality life left in you anyway. Make the most of it.

    But if you cant take a risk, then learn to meditate. Seriously go to a buddhist temple on a weekend and take ther free meditation course. Maybe you’ll be enlightenes and find inner peace. One guy I know who was a workaholic dis this and he claims to have found happiness. He is much calmer when i see him now so maybe it worked.

    But for the rest of you my message is this: go steal something, but do it in a smart way. That is how all fortunes were made (carnegie, rockafeller, bush). Dont believe it, read about these guys. Steal smart my friends.

    Reply
    1. Emily Montès

      “If you are afraid to take a risk then you will be getting shut up by someone else your whole life. Plus the stess is literally going to break you down and kill you piece by piece until you are a hopeless broken soul. ”

      Wise words, and apt ones.

      Reply
  19. Becky Price

    Keeping my mouth shut is definitely a problem for me. Before I knew what was sneaking out of my mouth, I asked someone at church if he thought he was speaking for God. And yes, my unfiltered responses are quite often the result of listening to someone who is full of it. It is always important to be careful how you say the truth and never attend church on an empty stomach :)

    Reply
  20. Connie

    Scott, thank you for your insight. I have struggled for over a year with my management’s new approach of – “be direct, be honest, call each other out, make us the best in class” – and then thier constant slapping of your hand when the slacker you tried to encourage or prod along doesn’t like the disucssion or advise you presented. So I took your blog above, and tweaked it a bit to make myself a new office motto. I hope you don’t mind. It will sit on my desk until I learn to either “keep my mouth shut” or effectuate a “personal” change. Thanks again, Connie (Chicago, IL)

    It goes like this:

    If you care about effecting change, you should never express yourself without some sense of who will support your opinions and recommendations. If it appears that support for you is low, no matter the reason, it is better to remain silent.
    And furthermore, if after acknowledging a low level of support you continue your efforts to effectuate change, you are either a glutton for punishment, or too foolish to realize you are no longer in the right place.
    SB

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    1. Emily Montès

      Connie, if you don’t mind I’m going to put that on my computer wall paper right now.
      Emily

      Reply
    2. Leona

      HA! My own personal way of dealing with this was to post a sign above my desk that says, “The next time you feel yourself being sucked into someone else’s drama, say to yourself: NOT MY CIRCUS, NOT MY MONKEYS!” It’s been there just over a week. It has worked three out of four times.

      Reply
  21. Jo Jo

    Like most of the other commenters, I typed in “How to keep your mouth shut,” and this was what I got.

    I’ve read lots of people talking about truth, the stupidity of others, others being wrong, etc., but not many take responsibility for their own actions.

    I think the author is correct. What he’s basically saying is the old, “pick your battles” mindset, and also make sure you have money, power, or numbers to back you up.

    I need to shut up. It is rarely that I’m right and someone else is wrong; it is more a matter of opinion. I see it like this and you see it like that. It doesn’t make either of us wrong, it just makes our viewpoints different. This is something I had to learn the hard way after realizing that there are more ways to do or see something than just my own way.

    That took A LOT of reflection, self-awareness, as well as learning to be more aware of others rights to look at things differently than I do. Let’s face it, there are valid arguments on both sides of almost every subject and it more or less depends on who is stronger at the time.

    Reply
    1. Senta

      I think a lot is about office politics. Many like (us) do not know how to play the game. We are the outsiders, looking in. The fact of the matter is that most difference of opinion boils down to the “how” not the “what”. Most of the time the “how” (unless it is illegal or unethical) is not that important any way. Another source of difference of opinion is priority. Who is to say our priorities are the right ones? Its managements prerogative to decide on priorities. We can voice our opinion, privately and then shut up.

      Reply
  22. Susan

    In addition to the problem you’ve described I am also an “over sharer”. I talk about my kids, my husband etc. today at my brand new job I found out my boss’s son goes to the same high school as my son. I couldn’t just leave it at that. No I found it necessary to tell my new boss that my son was suspended today for tweeting “inappropriate” comments about the school board on the school boards twitter account. Really I did. My brain the whole time is screaming SHUT UP!!!! I have noticed that in the workplace no one really talks about their outside life. That is going to be a challenge as that is how I connect and connecting is important to me for some reason. I need therapy.

    Reply
    1. Nancy

      I feel like I could be your twin! I have the same illness — I tell too much personal information, probably in an effort to fit in, maybe?

      Not only do we need therapy–we need to form a club! I think we are a special group of people who need support from each other — we can tell our personal stuff to each other and then advise each other on what not to say outside of the club.

      Reply
      1. Cat

        Can I join the big mouth club please , just upset everyone lately , work , in laws now sister .. I’m like a virus

        Reply
        1. Mouth

          This seriously made me laugh out loud! I have offended just about everyone in my life too with my big mouth!!!

          Reply
  23. Dave

    Your first Microsoft job sounds like my dream job!

    Reply
  24. Fred

    How I wish I’ve read your article much sooner! But thanks, gave me much insight of what I must do and what I have been doing wrong that often get things out of hand.

    I still find it hard to shut up though, but in time I guess…

    Reply
  25. Brenda

    I feel so much better after reading this article and reading people’s comments. I am not alone! I would like to start a support group for people unable to keep their mouths shut. Anyone wanting to join one with me?

    Reply
  26. Angie Kasprzak

    I appreciate all of your comments.

    Reply
  27. Emily Montès

    Wow, thanks. I have moved to a place where the national culture is like MSTE compared to the Microsoft of your earlier days, as you cited.

    I found your site while looking for a way to defuse a power imbalance in a business relationship, using silence followed by, when pressed, the briefest statement of my point of view. I have found, to my shock and dismay, that as a person with no social status in this country, I shouldn’t speak, most of the time. However, I do need to bring about a change, so I’m looking for ways to do this without appearing rude in a society where politeness is everything.

    This could be a blog heading or book title: how to lead when you have NO vested power.

    I use the words shock and dismay, because the in business relationship concerned, I am the “client” or “service user” in a service that relies upon a frank exchange of views, but am not permitted to speak my mind, even in order to make this “service” function more effectively. I have moved to a country where service provision isn’t key, respect for protocol is. According to their protocol, those with no power don’t speak. I will be using the “less is more” approach in my meeting later today to terminate the service with immediate effect, without getting sucked into a cycle of complaining, blame, justification and power play!

    Wish me luck, I’m going to need a lot of it.
    Regards, Emily

    Reply
  28. Largemouth

    Thank God for this. I am killing myself trying not to get on everyone’s nerves. How can I turn things around after I Have created this bad reputation? I need to fix this and keep my mouth shut until I can get into a job where dissenting opinion is viewed as an opportunity for improvement.

    Reply
  29. Hey...Buddy

    I, too, googled “how to keep my mouth shut” and am so glad there are others out there like me. I think there is hope for all of us just for the fact that we know that it is us sometimes that is the problem. I often find it is my comfort level that allows me to speak my mind. When I am comfortable with a situation, an environment, a person, I tend to be myself. Myself is one is will tell it like it is and that is often the wrong person to be, but I am trying, hence this site.

    The reason I looked into this site was not because of a work scenario, as I do ‘pick my battles’ in those situations, it was actually a private situation where I thought I was commiserating with someone like me — a smartass — and jokingly pointed out that he was clearly one of us and he was totally offended. Long story short, I really need to think more before I open my pie-hole. The funny thing is that when I am reserved and guarded and mind my tongue, I am then accused of having nothing to say.

    Blank stare.

    I continue to be mindful and work on it.

    Reply
    1. brenda

      I originally googled ‘how to keep my mouth shut’ nearly a year ago and lots of comfort in the fact that there seem to be lots of other people out there struggling with this issue also – I think it’s a personality defect. I haven’t learned my lesson though – here I am reading all of these posts again – a year later in the same boat again. I am not sure why I care so much about trying to make things go well or ‘right’ in my opinion. No one else cares. And saying exactly what I think doesn’t win me any admiration. I am just branded a complainer. Everyone seems to be fine with sub par work from colleagues and vendors. Except I always feel like if I let some things slide – my perfectionist boss then yells at me for things not being right. No win situation. I am trying to keep my mouth shut but IT IS SO HARD!

      Reply
      1. Sunny

        I agree. I googled it also, after a meeting at work and thinking: here I am again–in a place where people aren’t trusting my judgment (or me). I have to keep my mouth closed sometimes, but it is true, I just feel the need to raise the bar. I could feel it –that I’m being labeled the person who always complains.
        My expectations though are that things should work smoother or more efficiently.

        Reply
  30. Ggg

    Hello I have the same problem and it has gotten me in trouble. I have also hurt many people unintentionally because there are times when ppl don’t want to hear the truth. I’m sure we can all agree that there are times when someone has said something which was true, yet we didn’t appreciate it. First thing I did to correct the problem was closey Fb account, since j was always venting and making a dork of myself. I then got involved in other classes and activities do I would have less time on my hands to rant about everything that’s wrong with the world. As human being we have a need to express ourselves, but we have a greater need to feel accepted and loved. So now j keep myself busy doing other things, and now that’s what I talk about. I also stopped watching the news and any and every negative TV shows, movies, YouTube videos etc. I prefer to be happy than speak my mind. There’s my two cents. Namaste

    Reply
    1. mj

      Don’t feel bad! I’ve done the same thing. I decided that I need to find other things to do that express myself because I am making everyone hate me. Just wanted you to know that your comment helped me. I was feeling bad today.

      Reply
  31. mj

    I found this site after googling “how to keep my mouth shut.” I am one of those people who always complains and has an opinion. I have found that I have ostracized myself at work. I need to stop. I’m grateful that I found this site. It has given me comfort. Also, the comments of others on this site has helped me too.

    Reply
  32. David

    I also found this site while searching for “keeping your mouth shut” This is a great article, and the comments are excellent and helpful. I read them all. Thank you to everyone who commented, and to the author for putting this out there.

    I agree with the contributors that said the only way to get around working in an environment where you don’t like what is going on is to have your own business. At that point, if you are successful enough to be able to somewhat choose your customers, you will find the most satisfaction. It doesn’t mean you can be a jerk, and open your mouth and say everything that comes across your mind, but it does allow you to disagree more, because you have more power.

    Success is the best revenge. Although, revenge is not what you should be seeking. You should be seeking to build something that hopefully helps other people (you, your family first, and something beyond that too). You should be seeking to fill the human need to create.

    If you do stay in the corporate world, I agree with those who stated that while at work, there is no freedom of speech. You are theirs for the time you are on the job. You have to be careful how you try to help the company. You should never go over your boss, unless it is something clearly illegal, and provable. An blatantly incompetent CEO or C-level management is not always a good reason to put your job on the line. Look for a new job instead. If you are great at what you do, and your superiors SUSPECT you don’t look too highly upon them, you are going to be in trouble, and they will want to get rid of you.

    Reply
  33. Billybill

    YUP i got the big mouth but i dont care because in todays world others do not care except to speak out aginst me because they know i will not speak back finally ended that with two neighbors months ago. Showed them actual instances others they knew doingt something i did they called me out on BUT said nothing. NOW i’m making huge cash and all of sudden i got the enimies as like talking to me more saying hi to me ???

    DA FUG IS THAT ABOUT?

    Reply
  34. Tee

    I am a student at a community college. No place is more open and authentic, right? I am toe to toe with one instructor or another over the lack of collaboration every term. I try, I really do. I try to keep my mouth shut. This time she put us down for not taking a voluntary practice quiz telling us 90% of her other class did. Then she asks several closed questions in a row contradicting the student each time to the point volunteered to answer her next question. Then another student says my opinion is all wrong he just can’t say what it is. Then I get in trouble for telling him to choose a point and support his argument against it, without which his tyrade is without merit.

    So it’s not my fault. Wrong. I still have to accept responsibility for the outcome if I truly want to be a community leader just like the author. My behavior did not rise to a level of skill that allowed me to communicate effectively. Had I used my OARS and affirmed the young man’s opinion before calling him out in such an unskillful manner my true objective could have been achieved. Had I succeeded in keeping my mouth shut long enough to give my words proper consideration before speaking I may have been more successful.

    Reply
    1. Tee

      Correction line 6 …. contradicting each student to the point [no one] volunteered to answer her next question.

      Reply
  35. Roadster

    Just came across this article and all your posts and I’m so, so, so relieved to know that I’m not alone here. In fact, I think my problems are a combination of the issues you’re all facing; talking too much about myself and other people, voicing my strong opinions at work and out of work – all to the point where I feel nobody at work (and in some cases even in my personal life) even likes me, but that they tolerate me because they have to.

    In my case though, I think the work problems stemmed because nobody was listening to my advice or guidance when they were asking for it, but now I feel as though I need to ram it down their throats in a desperate bid to get them to listen. After reading one of the posts above, I know now that this is a sure sign that I should leave – they didn’t value my opinion before and now I’m behaving like this, they’re certainly not going to value it now.

    Thank you for this article and all of your posts. I am currently having counselling and will be sure to raise these feelings there.

    Reply
  36. anon July2015

    I just stumbled upon this, as I also have to admit to myself in my youngish adulthood (I’ll be 30 this year) that I’m learning that this article is so true– you gotta learn to keep your opinions to yourself. I NEVER thought I would ever think that, but I learned the hard way on more than on occasion.

    I have been shunned from a workplace I was dedicated to for years (I politely called my boss out for repeated bounced paychecks and had my contract renewal revoked two days later), and I was dismissed from a graduate program (despite excellent grades and strong performance reviews from practicums) for speaking my mind when I was being unquestionably mistreated by faculty (turns out they can lie about students and fully get away with it).

    It drives me C R A Z Y that horrible people can get away with terrible, selfish, and atrocious behavior at other good people’s expense.

    I think the key is this: keep your mouth shut unless you have another influential person to back you up, and unless you can guarantee beyond the shadow of a doubt that your complaints won’t get you into trouble — in the workplace or elsewhere.

    Reply
  37. Dave

    Until companies get brave enough to bring in 360 degree appraisals then there is a chance that you will have a terrible boss. If you can knuckle down and keep in good with him/her then you will make it through to the day when they get found out, and the new boss is you. On that day, remember the lesson, and encourage your staff to speak out to you while you start the process again with your new boss.

    Reply
    1. Dave

      I’m sorry for the post above… I should have just kept my mouth shut. LOL.

      Reply
      1. TERI

        Good one Dave! I needed that laugh…..

        Reply
  38. Maria

    I just want to say wow I thought I was the only one who actually knows I have this problem and am not trying to be a total pain in the butt! I actually am really interested in sharing what I believe to be best, but I am “that girl” in many places… with my siblings, in groups. It really sucks because I really am a good and nice person… But wow do I need to learn how to show it better! People completely disregard what I say as “that’s just Maria” and never even give it any thought.
    Also, as I asked another person who posted, do any of you think you are highly sensitive people? HSP? I really think there is something to it now that I have been reading up on it. I believe people think I have a choice to have such strong opinions that they nearly overtake me, but I think I am just an extroverted HSP and I need to find ways of controlling what is naturally occurring in me and not in other people. Thanks for letting me know I am not alone.

    Reply
    1. Dee

      So I have the same issue. At the end of the day it’s about me doing a great job and my colluegues not so much. They watch tv and read magazines while I run my ass off and I just can’t keep quiet. But I do see what you mean, if it makes not change afterword, which it doesn’t, then I might as well stop. I sometimes feel like having a stroke because all the pressure is put on me because I am the only one actually doing my job and getting results. If everyone did their bit, I wouldn’t need to voice my opinions the whole time. I cannot handle lazy people and yet they earn so much more than I do. I have taken it up with my manager and he doesn’t take me seriously but only increase my workload as the men don’t even respond to the management requests. I too will print the note out. Just wasting my breath with no changes. Thank you for the insight. Good luck to all.

      Reply
    2. Stephen Lincoln

      Hi Maria,

      Your post about HSP got me to thinking and I googled it. I came across an article by Janine Ramsey, founder of Sensitivity Style, who expouses a new model supported by scientific research that’s designed to help people with differing levels of sensitivity live and work together more respectfully and successfully. Her article is a follow-up to our interview with Elaine Aron, who pioneered the concept of Highly Sensitive People (HSP).

      Does this description fit you?

      “They are intuitive visionaries, able to see the big picture, creative, aware of and thoughtful to the needs of others, good influences on the social climate, vigilant with quality, highly conscientious, loyal, able to pick up on subtleties in the environment and in interpersonal communications, and are often gifted.’

      Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind speaks of the future belonging to right-brained people, people with what he calls “high concept” and “high touch”, capabilities of intuition, empathy, compassion, creativity, ability to see the big picture; functions based in the right side of the brain.

      If interested, here is the link to the article.

      http://www.hrzone.com/perform/people/highly-sensitive-people-in-the-workplace-from-shame-to-fame

      Reply
  39. Big T

    Thanks for this article. It’s good to know that I am not alone. I wish we could all go into a meet up group for this. I am in the NYC area, anyone else ?

    Reply
  40. Stephen Lincoln

    A comment that was made about Highly Sensitive People got me to thinking. So, I googled it. I found this article.

    Does this sentence describe any of you?

    “The research of Dr Elaine Aron and others shows that HSP have many qualities of great value to the workplace. “They are intuitive visionaries, able to see the big picture, creative, aware of and thoughtful to the needs of others, good influences on the social climate, vigilant with quality, highly conscientious, loyal, able to pick up on subtleties in the environment and in interpersonal communications, and are often gifted. In short, they are ideal employees”, says Dr Elaine Aron in The Highly Sensitive Person, 1991. ”

    “Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind speaks of the future belonging to right-brained people, people with what he calls “high concept” and “high touch”, capabilities of intuition, empathy, compassion, creativity, ability to see the big picture; functions based in the right side of the brain.”

    “From one end of the performance continuum to the other, sensitive, perceptive people have the potential to be the best or worst performers depending on the conditions, due to their enhanced ability to detect and deeply process subtleties in the environment.”

    “If you want to know what needs to be done to create a healthy workplace environment that will bring out the best in all your people, ask your highly sensitive people! They will tell you things you may never have thought of…”

    “Those with out-dated thinking might still say that people with the trait are a liability for an organisation. But smart organisations of the Conceptual Age see people with this innate ability as a rare and valuable asset. They foster and utilise their highly sensitive, perceptive employees’ unique abilities to achieve success at an individual, organisational, community and global level.”

    “They have shifted their cultural bias, implemented a zero tolerance for discrimination towards sensitive people, included high sensory processing sensitivity as an important dimension of their diversity management strategy, educated their organisation about differing levels of sensitivity style, upskilled their managers to know how to bring out the best in their sensitives…”

    http://www.hrzone.com/perform/people/highly-sensitive-people-in-the-workplace-from-shame-to-fame

    Reply
  41. Afshan

    best article i must say

    Reply
  42. KoltirasRip

    I found this place when I looked up the phrase, ‘How to train myself to shut up at work.’

    Everything about the article is true. My problem was that people said I argued, rather than complaining. I never went to management to speak my mind about how people were slacking or how we could all do better…I, instead, always felt the need to justify myself.

    In my world, the WHY someone does/says something is equally important to WHAT was done, so giving both facets to the answer was part of my nature. Turns out, the WHY answer p1sses certain people off, and it’s usually the ones responsible for whether I keep my job.

    They said I always argued. I was told at one point to literally “Just sit down and SHUT UP.” by my manager. I have never been so incensed in my LIFE. If I didn’t have the worry of jail-time, I’d have jumped onto the table and kicked the old bastard in the head for it.

    I don’t feel like I would’ve had the need to justify everything I did if the people around me weren’t so dead-set on inventing the reasons why on their own, and making false statements about my intentions. You can’t make $hit up about why I did something and then establish it as canon in your head. It’s absolutely ridiculous. How am I supposed to keep my mouth shut when someone “superior” to you is factually making things up about you, and speaking those lies out loud?

    I did the only thing I knew to and quit. Hell with that place and those people.

    Reply
    1. TERI

      I can totally relate. I had the exact situation but was forced to eat it b/c I really needed my job which I had over 7 years invested in. Since then my “superior” has been terminated and I am still there. Karma is a bitch. But I learned a valuable lesson, the company and higher ups don’t want you pointing out ANYTHING unless they want to do it themselves. You are not considered a “team player” unless you keep your mouth shut.
      I do have desire to eventually leave.
      UGH……………….

      Reply
  43. TERI

    I also have to keep this struggle up on the home front. My husband only likes to hear his own voice and isn’t happy unless you agree w/ him. So for the sake of stopping blowout fights in front of my children. I keep my mouth shut. When he pisses me off, I get in the car and drive. I don’t think this can go on much longer. As a result, I have 3 bleeding ulcers and other stomach problems…..holding it in for years takes a toll on your body.

    Reply
  44. Anita Leary

    I typed in “How to keep your mouth shut” and found this article. I can’t seem to learn my lesson. Every time I know my mouth is acting, while my brain sits in stunned silence, I get so mad at myself. I want to end this, and I’m trying, but I keep doing it. Why? I know it’s not good.

    Reply
    1. teri

      I have struggled w/ this for a long time and have learned the very hard way. I literally meditate a few days a week and pray to be quiet. I feel like I am biting my tongue at work, at home, and even w/ my son’s coaches. I am to the point where I have to talk to myself and remind myself to keep my words in my head. It is so exhausting. It isn’t b/c I am a loud mouth person who wants to voice my opinion al the time, I feel it is b/c I am constantly dealing w/ difficult people who only want to hear their own voices. I have to convince myself it’s not worth speaking b/c no one cares what I say anyway.

      Reply

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