How to keep your mouth shut

I have a disorder of a kind 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 successful recovery for years and I am here to share what I’ve learned.

As a rule, if you insist on always speaking your mind, you will inevitably find yourself in an environment where everyone hates you. Most people can not handle the truth (or what you believe is 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. 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 this: put the desire to effect positive change above your instinct to tell people they’re wrong. The later almost never leads to the former.

Back in my early days at Microsoft I worked on strong 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 tough, smart people far more senior than I was. If I was wrong, I was dismissed, but not scolded. I might have heard praise for 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 different world. 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. But I didn’t stop to think the group had its own bar, it’s own culture and it was not my job to set it. And I was far from having enough respect from anyone to be seen as a leader, which would be required to change the culture anyway.

It took months of suffering to realize I was in a different culture with different expectations. It blew my mind to realize there were other cultures at all. To achieve the same positive effects my opinionated nature had early in my career, 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?

211 Responses to “How to keep your mouth shut”

  1. Brian DeMarzo

    Just remember… We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

    One rule I have: Thou shall not open thy mouth unless all other mouths in the room are closed. This solves two problems:

    1) You don’t try to speak over other people.
    2) You stop speaking when you say something and people’s jaws fall open in shock.

    After all, the spoken word has an UNDO feature, but it is often very hard, and very painful, to UNDO what you say, and often it is not successful.

    Reply
  2. Krish

    An alternative is to ask questions instead of talking. That helps you move people towards what you think should be done.

    Reply
  3. Mike Nitabach

    This is a very eloquent description of the need to “choose your battles”. So, how do you choose your battles? I choose mine based mostly on two factors: (1) the likelihood that I can win this battle and (2) the influence winning this battle will have on the *core* goals of my laboratory.

    The counterintuitive thing is to decline to engage battles that you know you can win when the benefits of victory are minimal. This goes against human nature, especially for very competitive people. The corollary to this is to allow other people to win battles even when you know you could prevent them, if the detriment of their winning that battle to *your* goals is small.

    Fight battles that you have a good shot at winning and that you expect to have a substantial effect on your core goals. Needless to say, this requires knowing what your core goals are, something that I surprisingly find many people to do a very, very poor job of.

    Reply
  4. Scott Berkun

    Mike:

    There is a huge emotional component in this for me. I felt I was a bad person for not saying the truth. I felt it was a matter of integrity.

    But after my experience in MSTE, where my naive and self-destructive sense of integrity made me miserable, I worked hard to make it a choice. To get to a place where i could choose how much emotional energy to invest in a particular situation.

    If an environment is toxic and dangerously stressful, I’m better served by leaving than environment than placing myself in the middle of it.

    That’s an extreme case to answer your general question. But it leads to one word: commitment. The more committed I am to my boss, my team, my company, the more fights I’m willing to wage, and the more trouble I’m willing to get into to do what I think is right.

    Reply
  5. Mike Nitabach

    There is a huge emotional component in this for me. I felt I was a bad person for not saying the truth. I felt it was a matter of integrity.

    I was this way, too, especially when I was a grad student. And I got a lot of positive feedback for it. But I eventually realized that I was getting positive feedback because other people were using my emotional investment in “speaking the truth” to serve their own goals, and not mine.

    As I became more measured and deliberate about this, some of the people who praised me for my prior untempered outspokenness expressed disappointment at the change. This was exactly when I knew that I was doing the right thing by changing my approach.

    Reply
  6. Milan Davidovic

    @Krish – this is the tack that I prefer to take; however. there’s a caveat:

    “The member [of a culture] who poses awkward questions about

    Reply
  7. Andrea

    In my experience, regional differences can play a role here as well. I moved from the northeast U.S., where silence implies consent, to the southeast U.S., where silence implies that people are too polite to disagree publicly. (It took me a long time to figure this out.) I’ve learned that it’s often better to keep my mouth shut during a meeting and discuss the issue one-on-one later. Still, there’s no way to totally eliminate the possibility of damaging a relationship. Some people are predisposed to be victims, so any suggestion you make, even if you’re trying to help, is seen as a personal attack.

    Reply
  8. Scott Berkun

    Andrea: You’re totally right. Culture matters. And a simpler way to make my point is to understand the culture before you attempt to challenge it.

    As a former new yorker living in Seattle, I constantly fight my more east-coast, confrontation prone, ‘silence is consent’ attitude, with the more friendly, polite, and passive west coast Seattle vibe.

    That first group I worked in was an anomaly in many ways for both Microsoft, and for Seattle. It just took me suffering for awhile after leaving that group to put it all together.

    Reply
  9. Jason Crawford

    Thanks for this post, Scott. I have gone through similar experiences when moving from one company to another.

    Some things I’ve learned about speaking up:
    * Learn to disagree with someone’s *idea* while still conveying respect for the *person*.
    * Choice of words matters, as does tone and body language. Try to avoid: leaning back, crossing your arms, frowning, or using a dismissive tone.
    * Remember that other people might be more thin-skinned or sensitive than you. They might also be intimidated of you, even if they don’t let on.
    * Don’t *hide* your disagreement. Disagree openly and frankly. Doing so actually conveys respect.
    * Point out specific problems: not “I don’t like this design”, but “With this design, I’m afraid of synchronization bugs”.
    * Better yet, formulate it as a question: “In this design, how would we avoid synchronization bugs”?
    * Be ready to suggest positive solutions of your own.
    * Choose your battles. Let people make mistakes sometimes, and let them learn from them.

    Reply
  10. Phil Simon

    Great Glengarry GlenRoss pic on the post, man. I love that film.

    Reply
  11. Elisabeth

    First off, this is an excellent post. It’s going into my personal archives: I too have been fighting this crippling affliction for all of my life.

    I am “that girl”. Except I’m pretty sure that there was another noun used instead of “girl”…

    I too have spoken out repeatedly, in various corporate cultures, against things that were “wrong”. More often than not, events usually transpired to prove that I was right. I have since discovered that this is not the point: the point is to not only to be right, but to be effective. Not at all the same thing, when you think about it.

    Your post highlights many key points: know where you stand, private is always better than public, and pick your battles.

    I have tried many things in my own personal therapy: the most ineffective was not speaking out at all, which nearly killed me. This was just denying who I was, which is stupid, really. Without passion, there is no emotion, and without emotion, there is no caring. I simply cannot do work I don’t care about. I think one of your comments hit on this emotional investment.

    So instead, I am trying to learn when to open my mouth and when to shut up. It’s far from easy. So far, the best I have come up with is:

    1. Know where your management, and their management, stands.
    2. Know where your colleagues stand.
    3. Find out if the thing you’re speaking against is a sacred cow and why.
    4. Try to find as many business reasons to support your points.
    5. And, if it’s too painful, leave.

    Most important in that list (I know now) is #1: your colleagues might agree with you but be relunctant to say “she’s right” in front of the boss. (Been there, done that thousands of times.) I have recently come to the conclusion of #5 and have gladly moved on. I am saner for it.

    Again, great post. (Nothing like it on the internet: believe me, I looked.)

    Reply
    1. Mary

      It is good to read your comment as I realize that I have been in a similar situation a few times before. There is a cultural issue as far as I am concerned very much alike you have described in your post. In French culture, it would not be a generalisation to say that people tend to value truth more than they value people’s feeling or reaction to truth. Le Franc parler is certainly under pressure under neoliberalism but still, people who are passionate about what they do often take the risk to expose themselves. Personally, I have found it difficult to evaluate the angle response. Workplaces are filled with some interesting personalities, some that present personality disorder and who seem to often climb the ladder faster than anyone else. I wonder if this type of people could be useful for me to learn more about angle ;) Meanwhile, your article and people’s comments have provided me with some learning and reasurrrance. Merci to you all.

      Reply
  12. Quentin Hartman

    I just remember this phrase (not sure where I picked it up): “Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze.”

    Which is to say that you sure the positive outcome you are hoping for is worth whatever negative backlash / work you will have to endure as a result of pushing.

    Reply
  13. forradalom

    Very interesting. I work with a that-guy who put me in a delicate position. He was offered a responsibility, turned it down, it was given to me, and I accepted it–and then he proceeded to steamroller me with how I should do it.

    His opinions may be right, he may have experience, but he willfully ignored the fact that he maneuvered himself into a position of dictating how I should do my job without having any responsibility for the outcome. I did not resent his opinion, I resented his arrogance, the fact that he would not allow me to do and learn my new job.

    There is a social aspect to relating to fellow engineers. Not everyone has the hide of a rhinoceros, and it is unreasonable to place the burden of coping with antisocial behavior on everyone else’s shoulders. Common courtesy, respect for boundaries, and respect for your teammates has its place and is not incompatible with good engineering.

    Reply
  14. Sarat

    Good post Berkun. Usually when we raise the voice when we see things gonna end up in BS. Obviously poor planning, execution, unrealistic schedules, over/under estimation etc. If we tell the things in normal ways, usually seniors wont agree. Suppose if we’re the contact point to the customer,then they would ask to agree with this proposal or the specific model with customer even it’s a total BS. This kind of things never should happen in the senior level. This happens usually because lack of experience, lack of knowledge, ignorant about customer expectation or lack of experience in handling customers(or lack of understanding what he needs).

    When we raise voice, they take it as either I am jade or making unnecessary complains. as you said nobody is actually ready to accept the facts even if they realize they’re doing some bullshit things.

    What we usually sees that, if talk about something wrong people come to justify themselves (obvious) and the senior person get more support from higher management this is simply ridiculous. I dont know how to deal with these kind of pigs always doing and talking BS.

    I believe our actions will speak for us. but still as you said everyone is not really good with accepting their mistakes and truth.

    Reply
  15. Maria

    Wow. Does this ever hit home.

    I was in a similar situation back in my 9-5 days when, as an auditor (of all things), I was expected to speak my mind. I soon got a good reputation as someone who didn’t take bullshit from anyone. I thrived there. That experience suited me well when I lived in New York.

    But when I became freelance (writer, not auditor) and moved to Arizona, things changed. And when I got a seasonal “real job” for a big tour company, it didn’t take long to figure out that they didn’t want the opinions of the peons. They wanted mindless drones who followed instructions and didn’t make waves. The end of the season (and my contract) was a relief.

    I think people who have a real need to speak out need to find the right environment to do so. Otherwise, silence IS golden. Offer opinions only when asked for.

    And everyone should know that the only thing you do when you belittle a person in front of his peers is make yourself look like a jerk. Life ain’t like high school. Knowing when to keep your mouth shut is part of growing up.

    Anyway, great post.

    Reply
  16. rodica

    You’re a wise man, Scott :) I think all of us with this affliction have learned the simple lesson “pick your battles” the hard way. The good news is that it’s a great nugget for both work and play.:)

    Thanks for writing this!

    Reply
  17. Pawel Brodzinski

    I speak too much. Actually I try to learn the place I’m in, learn people I’m surrounded with and until then keep quiet. Unfortunately usually I start speaking way faster than I should.

    My sanity check is result of my first few battles. If these are all lost I take a step back and plough my own garden only. There’s one quote I recall in these situations: “So you banged through the wall with your head. What are you going to do in the next cell?” If they don’t need me speaking I just stop doing that. Or at least I’m trying to.

    Probably two most important things you mention are “pick your battles” and “[progress] happened because my boss, or his/her boss, listened to my points and took action, or granted me the power to do so.” This is exactly how it works.

    If I see lack of will to improve things I stop pointing what I believe is wrong. I don’t need more enemies than I already have.

    At home it’s completely different – we tell each other a lot. It works since usually we are able to accept criticism. Or so I believe.

    Reply
  18. LearntThatLessonToo

    Yep..been there done that and Scott I agree with you, the more loyal I am to my boss/team, the more fired up I get.

    I’ve been using the same principles as Elisabeth

    1. Know where your management, and their management, stands.
    2. Know where your colleagues stand.
    3. Find out if the thing you

    Reply
  19. tedd

    Good article and good advice. I never learned that lesson and I doubt I ever will. After more than four of decades of consulting, that’s probably the reason why I work alone with a few clients, very few good friends, and even fewer trusted associates.

    The truth, as you see it, can be a bitch of a task master if you have to also live up to that yardstick. As a mentor of mine once said about religion, be careful in what you believe in because you are the one who is going to have to live and die with it.

    On the other hand, you never have to feel you’ve comprise your standards. You are in complete agreement with yourself and there’s no conflict and no baggage — and that’s not bad. You are committed to something you belive in. Those who know you, even though they may not agree, will respect your integrity and at least know where you stand. That also filters out those who are not worth the effort. At the end of the day, you are the one you have to live with. So be true to yourself, speak your truth quitely, and let the world do what it will. I think that leads to a happier and more accomplished life.

    Cheers,

    tedd

    Reply
  20. Anonymous

    I understand what you are saying. However, what is happening to corporate America? Why are projects allowed to be run into the ground? This is criminal. I am involved where the integrity on the project is being jeopardized. No one says anything. Everyone keeps playing the game. It’s difficult to commit extra time towards the project when you are destined to fail. The project plan is Get’r done!!

    Reply
    1. Jim Ross

      “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

      Albert Einstein

      Reply
  21. Liz Brown

    Wow, I sure know this song.
    I’ve certainly been ‘the one who speaks up’, and I’ve often felt like ‘the one who catches it’ for saying anything. It took awhile to realise that many people complain to their friends or close co-workers, but they don’t actually intend to ‘make a complaint’ formally or officially. They just like a good moan, as they say here in the UK.
    In fact, ‘having a moan with your mates’ at the pub here is nearly a national institution. My straightforward Canadian ‘calling people’ on their moan (ie. ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’) was absolutely the wrong approach, and alienated my colleagues at one job, and I was utterly oblivious to it. In retrospect it’s not a big surprise I didn’t ‘fit’ well there.
    But for me, it was, and is, part of being a responsible citizen: if something’s wrong and you see it, it’s your responsibility to phone the council, complain to the management, whatever. If you’re not willing to speak up and offer a solution (and some effort to seeing it through), you’ve no right to complain.
    I still think that: but I have learned the value of choosing your battles. Life is too short to fix everything; you have to choose where to devote your energy for engagement, and your willingness to see a change through to its completion.
    For the moaners, I’ve found the best answer to everyday moans is ‘Mmmmm’. Nicely neutral, doesn’t commit you, shows you’re listening. Very useful.
    Well described, Scott. Best of luck with the recovery.

    Reply
  22. James

    Since you’re a truth-teller, you won’t mind if I tell you that

    But I didn

    Reply
  23. heather

    this is the story of my life!!! I worked at a large pharma company which was hell. it was all corporate games and i failed every one of them. I was constantly the devils advocate. what else i’ve learned is to never stick up for the underdog. there were new people who had questions or doubts but were too afraid to share them, so i would be the big sister and do it for them. no doubt this led to the hate-hate relationship between my pansie man boss and myself.

    Reply
  24. jen

    Scott, I can relate to this so very very much, but for me it’s not about a battle. It’s about being honest, like you. And it isn’t about negative or positive, it’s about communicating. But, right off the bat, I hear Brian’s tip making sense, because I do often have a problem of interrupting people, or even having it go back & forth of the other person & I overlapping in our discourse. It is very very hard.

    I used to be such a quiet person! I swear this is a battle with my shyness. I’m nervous and would rather be quiet, but I also like to help, so I pipe up. This will be the ongoing learning experience. One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever had is that communication is the greatest skill a designer can ever master. I think that goes for human beings.

    You are not alone, and it shows your worth that you even wonder about this.

    Reply
  25. @appswhisperer

    Granted, there are vast organizational and geographic differences. And, I agree that keeping quiet can be best, especially in organizations where consensus reigns. In such a workplace, disruptive ideas are discouraged, so it can be a toxic workplace to opinionated folks.

    As a consultant, you have the luxury of emotional distance, and your observations are likely to be spot on target.

    I just read “Sway, the irresistible pull of irrational behavior”. In it, authors Ori & Rom Brafman describe how we make decisions and influence others.

    In one chapter, they describe the roles in group behavior, and how, without a “blocker” (someone to play devil’s advocate), many groups are swept up in the “initiator’s” passion for a new thing. Team members can be too intimidated to speak against that emotion, and tend “go along” rather than confront an idea.

    They reported that full-on blocking behavior wasn’t necessary, and that a small interruption in the flow was enough to allow team members to feel comfortable that they weren’t the only ones questioning the issue and to speak up. The result was better decision-making and collaboration.

    Here’s to the clever folks with opinions and ideas finding balance in working with and influencing people.

    Reply
  26. Eric Schneider

    I’m 35yrs. old and I still haven’t fully learned this lesson in life. Invariably I find myself in the exact same position you described. I think by speaking my mind, I’ll create change, and if not, I can at least weed out the small minority who agree with me. Eventually, my “co-conspirators” and I become hated outcasts. It’s not until the working environment becomes completely dysfunctional before I realize I did it again. I swear, though, my mouth has it’s own brain that must think 100x faster than mine. The problem is, it’s often 100x dumber. I have to start changing my daily affirmation to “Shut your trap. Shut your trap.”

    Reply
  27. Rachel Burns

    All good points. My dad always told me that my mouth would get me in trouble. I have a sharp tongue and the quick mind to match. I suffer from can’t keep my mouth shut too. I also suffer from bring something up to a supervisor in private that needs to be addressed that gets announced all over work as if I am the first person who ever said it and how dare I. Leaked by none other than the superviosr I brought it up to..and then being accused by same supervisor of leaking confidential information. Immediately followed by workplace shunning started by the hostile environment creator supervisor I brought it up to eventhough he agreed with everything I said at the time and I’m labeled as a troublemaker. Here’s the tricky part. I call them out. In private first. Then it gets ugly. I am a woman in a male dominated field. Do men have this problem too? I have to admit that I will never go into recovery. It’s working with people who are too busy to think of what to say next to listen to you. Like when you go to buy a car and the sales person keeps trying to talk you into financing and you keep schooling them with numbers and they get frustrated and run to their finance manager who never comes out. You want to grab them by the tie and say look here…I’m not allowed to be stupid as a woman so you certainly aren’t allowed to be a stupid man. I’m trying to decide if I am a glutton for punishment or too stupid to realize I am working for the wrong people. I know that idiots are out there in massive numbers. Are the right people out there? If so, where?

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  28. Mary Aull

    This is really helping me with a problem I am totally having.

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  29. Hannah

    The thing is, the earlier a kid learns to keep his/her mouth closed, the earlier a kid will stop acting like a preschooler. Kids usually learn to keep their mouths closed starting as young as kindergarten. Even kindergarten kids can learn to keep their mouths closed. Not keeping your mouth closed is a serious offense and should be punished very severely.
    For example, a 13-year-old girl in sixth grade has a reputation for not keeping her mouth closed during gymnastics class. Her coach decides to expel her for an hour. Sobbing, the teenager sits on the bench because she never learned to keep her mouth closed.
    If her parents found out, they’d flick her to keep her from shedding any more tears and for acting immaturely. Children who don’t keep their mouths closed should be flicked.

    Reply
  30. Tony DaSilva

    Awesome stuff Scott. To answer your questions, I never shut my mouth. I haven’t made it to the recovery stage yet.

    Reply
  31. Claire Flanagan

    Wow.

    I am a member of a cross-company community and I noticed someone had posted a link to this post. The title was provocative, of course, and I thought – I’ll check it out. Usually, I skim blogs like this – or ignore them altogether.

    However, I read this one. And I will bookmark this and read it again.

    It is one of the few writing examples of a great blog that I’ve seen. A compelling, provocative subject – and one that does not disappoint with a great, well formulated argument, a personal story and examples/illustrations elsewhere with a good reflection on the lessons. I don’t think everyone can write. You clearly can.

    Ok, besides the fact that I wasn’t disappointed when I read the blog . . . I believe you have a great perspective on a very interesting issue that is, what I think, a complex combination of company politics (has the culture encouraged, discouraged, rewarded or penalized someone for speaking out), personal style, geography and true personal/geo culture.

    This was a great reflective piece. One that I, too, will share with my network both personal and professional.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  32. Hannah

    If you’re gonna say something ignorant, YOU’RE ignorant! Tell your child by the time they reach kindergarten, “How do you think I feel when you say ignorant things?” After the child’s mouth is shut, instead of saying, “Zip it!” [the child will be belittled], tell them, “How do you think I feel when you don’t keep your mouth shut?” They will answer, “Sad” or they’ll answer, “Mad.”
    If the child, however, says, “Talking too much is fun!” this is a sign of stubbornness and ignorance. Your voice needs to be authoritian. “HOW DO YOU THINK I FEEL WHEN YOU DON’T KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT BY BEING STUBBORN?” DO NOT scream at her, but use an authoritian voice if she is stubborn.

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  33. Fernando

    “What we usually sees that” Sarat, I think your English is not very good.

    Reply
  34. Fernando

    Hannah: this post isn´t about kids keeping their mouths shut, it´s not about kids making silence and letting others speaks. I think this post is about how to make suggestions and/or corrections to others and best influence the outcome/direction without everyone around you hating you.

    I think you might have difficulties understanding what you read.

    I also think that, by posting comments like these, I´m becoming the live example of what this post is all about. ;-P

    FC

    Reply
  35. Fernando

    By the way, Scott, this is a VERY good post… which reminds me that one should start his comments directing at others by first stating the points that you agree with, and ONLY THEN say “BUT… I also think that…” and follow with your criticism.

    Stating the (most of the time, obvious) agreements first puts the other side less on a defensive than if you do start with the pure criticism.

    FC
    PS: Thinking aloud, I also find it interesting that very intelligent people choose to work in a firm as nefarious as Microsoft.

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  36. Fernando

    “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.”

    The above description is of sane environment. People should not adjust their ethics to accept BS, and if the work environment becomes, like you say, “a world of dysfunction, despair and passive/aggression. No one spoke their mind in public.” then the problem is with that environment, not with you, and you should publicly state that, and if it doesn´t change, leave.

    Over time I´ve learned that LIFE IS TO SHORT, and if the people around you doesn´t value honest opinions, then it´s not worth my time to be around those people.

    FC

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  37. Fernando

    Sorry, I meant “too short”. I´ve also learned that, if I type too fast, errors like the above can happen. ;-)

    FC

    Reply
  38. inquisitive1

    For me keeping my mouth shut in my personal life is easy… work is so much harder. I’m more of a venter/complainer… if I think something at work isn’t a good idea/someone is an idiot I talk to my co-workers about it. They usually agree with me but they also don’t stop me so that makes it worse. I tend to complain more about the people who I’m opposite from in personality… one co-worker is constantly chipper… I’m so not. The other co-worker is constantly complaining about doing her job… which I do complain as well but I usually only complain when her actions are impeding my ability to get my job done. I don’t speak my mind if I know what I’m going to say will hurt someones feelings but I will complain over something I don’t agree with.

    Reply
  39. mikemouth

    So who hasn’t been there? My wife once asked another woman how far along she was. Big mistake. That said, I’ve been far more quilty than she. Part of it is from growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, to reach the impossible dream, which essentially means ‘turn a deaf ear to all the naysayers’. And I do. I’m guilty – again and again. But I’m trying to change – honest – and sometimes I succeed- Except when I realize the entire world has gone insane and I’m the sole survivor of all that’s right. Wah-wah-wah. Oh how I envy those whose lips remain sealed, glued at the crevice of vocabulary and saliva. But I am determined to succeed(?) and not to be ‘that man’. It’s simply that I have to keep my thoughts to myself, regardless, or is it irregardless?, I don’t know, but maybe you shouldn’t answer that aloud. I think it’s really a question of becoming bored with my state of affairs so much so that I search for social networks and reply so I can read what I think. Oh to be famous and not carry this burden of superiority. I’m really a nice guy, not ‘that guy’, and all that I ask is for you to not write, speak, and even crink your expression when I’m around – then we’ll be real good friends.

    Reply
  40. Kat

    Over the last several years I find myself stating my opinion and going home only to realize that what I have said may have offended another. I hate it and pray that others will forgive me and realize the true intentions of my statements. I have adopted a philosophy that has decreased these instances… “Don’t complain unless you have a viable suggestion to bring about change.” The other is that the key to successful communication is to be a good listener.” I try to listen more and speak less.

    Reply
    1. Big Mouth

      This is gold!

      Most recent example: I blew the whistle on someone a few days ago and got fired (nearly always the way whistle blowing plays out ain’t it?) because I just can’t keep my mouth shut when I see injustice or corruption.

      Am now at the point that I will force myself to walk away from even considering the possibility of working for medium or large companies in the future because I’m totally over being treated like a fool and a sucker in this manner.

      Thanks for the brilliant article and thanks to all those who have left comments as well – much to think on.

      Reply
  41. Gail Swanson

    This has been a difficult lesson for most of us to learn. Some brilliant people never do manage to understand it and spend their careers mired in frustration. I wonder how we can pass this wisdom on to others. Or do you win this the hard way.

    Reply
  42. kate1888

    I seem to have this so called genetic disorder also. Although my mother does’t seem affected. I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut, I can quite easily dislike a person if their moral is in dispute, well in dispute with my way of thinking I suppose. Let me take the subject away from employment if I may. For instance tonight my mother’s partner looked in the sink and despite the fact that I do the dishes every day, he made a point of looking in the sink and shaking his head, there were two bowls and a plate in there, I had earlier done the dishes after dinner, I mean what is the point and what the hell is he moaning about? He doesn’t do the dishes, in fact he does nothing, wont take the shopping in from the car, won’t iron his own shirt, in fact he doesn’t even dress himself! No I’m not joking, my mother helps him!I have never met a more useless individual. Another thing that irritates the hell out of me is that when he is served dinner, he doesn’t say thanks, then he proceeds to sit ahd eat it, then I have to take his plate from the table and put it in the sink and he still can’t seem to summon a very simple Thank you!! Not once has he said it! He seems to think that because he owns the house and has money, very limited by the way, that the whole world should bow to him and it drives me insane, absolutely nuts!! I can’t stand his arrogance and have said so quite a few times but it doesn’t seem to get me anywhere, my mother gets angry at me for even attempting to broach the subject. I am finding it incredibly difficult to keep my mouth shut…

    Reply
  43. Loo

    See, when you like to be right all the time and speak the truth, you forget that even for you the truth is hard to swallow.

    Reply
  44. Kathy

    Wow! This makes so much sense to me. I suffer from the same disorder and I have found myself and an environment that everyone at work is starting to dislike me… now I can see why!

    I go to work every day thinking that today I will keep my mouth shut; today I will work hard and go home. However, every day I find something else someone did wrong or could have done better and I make it known.

    I currently have the new boss on my side and he has noticed my leadership skills but according to this blog it looks like I could easily lose it if I keep pointing out all of the errors of the day.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and I will heed your advice and keep my mouth shut until the appropriate time!

    Reply
  45. 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. Selene

        Sorry to hear you are going through this, it is tough. Here’s one thing that might help, it’s not the easiest to do just needs to be constantly reminded: you want to be accepted as you are, just for who you are, you opinions, things you do? Then accept others fully and let them be. When you know your truth you will not need to tell it others because within you you have strong roots and others feel it, their words will fall like sand agains the wall, and so your mind and mouth will become silent and you will radiate strength, no wind will blow you over, simply because you know your truth, you will not need to put others down or call them names because you respect and accept them as they are for their opinions, you will encourage them to be themselves and develop into stronger human beings. We often want to control outer, gives us sense of power, but it’s not it, it is internal not external! Hope all goes well for you.

        Reply
      3. San

        Sounds terrifieng …self control…start little…reward yourself let say if you go to store and back without talking to anyone…next time all the way to school …have one friend or mom to call in situations or press button on the phone… Someone that can help you …good luck

        Reply
    3. James C. Brown

      It’s all very simple. This is what makes it so interesting. In a fairy tale sense. All is fine and can be fine. Why is it not? I consider myself a reasonable man and can make an intelligent decision without hesitation. You either take a step forward or your standing still!

      Reply
    4. Luke

      Andrea, me too. I did a search the same way you did and ran across this article. I ran into the same situation as the author with my current job. Having gone from the military where everything you’re doing right or wrong is okay for someone to point out through rewards and punishments I was used to pointing out when something was wrong. I quickly became “that guy” that everyone avoided so they didn’t get critiqued. I feel like everyone hates me.

      Reply
    5. Dennis

      So, I’ve read through all the comments…I think the patterns I see is this.

      We need to find another way to express ourselves.

      If it’s talking too much about personal stuff then we need to realize it’s interesting and/or important to us and not so much to others.

      Other folks don’t want to hear that in our life we’ve “done that and seen that” and then some.

      The younger ones/lesser experienced ones want to make the mistakes for themselves, like we did. They don’t really care that a “know it all” has been through that.

      Unless your the boss, say as little as possible…maybe we over value the weight of our experience, ideas, and opinions.

      Are we being narcissistic, or looking to be the smartest or the one that’s right? Seriously….are we?

      There’s a saying I heard from my 12 step friends, “would you rather be right or happy?”

      I get all wound up when I start talking about things I’m passionate about. Sometimes people engage with me, but like winning at gambling it doesn’t happen that often and just drives me to try it more often without fruition.

      Summing it up….Keep physically active, find another outlet for expression(art, music etc), keep the thoughts to yourself, give your opinion only when asked. I think the prayer/meditation is key to controlling the impulses.

      Good luck folks
      This shit ain’t easy

      Reply
      1. TheCrazyLady

        I couldn’t agree more with your post Dennis, every word of it! I think I was supposed to happen upon this article today, with all of these comments to read through.

        Reply
      2. Bob

        I’ve repeatedly left jobs out of anger. Consistently feeling like I was unappreciated, or had blown it by mouthing off one time too many with a manager. In two instances, I had micro-managing bosses.. and absolutely went nuts with my perception that they were trying to control my every thought. But, this article is really what I needed to hear about myself. I have WAY too high an estimation of my value.. and it makes it very clear that I come across as an egomaniac or worse….

        Reply
  46. Diana

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

    Reply
  47. 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

    Reply
  48. 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
  49. 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
  50. 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
    2. Calendula

      My mom has this “disorder.” What it boils down to, is that she gets a thought in her head and it pops out of her mouth. All thoughts! If she thinks your shoes are worn out, or if the plumber is BSing her, or someone’s hair looks like a bad at-home misadventure with peroxide, whatever it is, good or bad, you WILL know where you stand! She made enemies at work for pointing out a better (in her own opinion) way of doing their job, and they of course, were insulted and felt intruded upon. Then they all got secretive and avoided her with polite nods.

      Bottom line: Have the thoughts, but keep them to yourself 99% of the time!

      Reply
  51. 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
    2. maureen wall

      I have the same problem as you Jane with a boss who insists that I adopt a positive attitude in an environment I can hardly bear. My colleagues are like a pack of wolves and a bunch of hypocrites if I tell it as it is in a meeting. This is because my boss has told them they are not entitled to an opinion and if they have one, to keep it to themselves. There is a true saying that you cannot change the world by yourself but I have had a damn good try over the past fifty or so years. Staff meetings are just a useless exercise to justify the bosses position. I have just walked out of a meeting because of people who like to moan to me in private and then expect me to fire the gun. I do this on a regular basis and I will NEVER back off when I am making a valid point or be told that I cannot have an opinion. The word coward comes to mind when I see people cower in meetings but then walk out tutting to themselves because nothing every changes. Keeping people in their place is the reason for the great divide and that is how it will stay unless we all learn to stand up for ourselves! So I shall have a large glass of wine, tell myself that I will never speak up in public again and then do it all again at another meeting because I have the same rights as anyone else when it comes to free speech.

      Reply
  52. 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
  53. 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
    1. San

      I think thats right… Be yourself…

      Reply
  54. 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.

        Reply
        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. ed

          I’m so focused on saying nothing to anyone for many of the reasons commented on in this blog. I’m that guy. I struggled to learn to shut up and consider myself a work in progress. There’s so many mixed emotions towards the people I helped, managers, people I thought were friends and even myself . I didn’t realized how naive I was. I always thought I was a good judge of character. I believe in diligence and loyalty to the person who employed me and gave me an opportunity. I say nothing even though I know it would make things better. I trust no one including my managers who speak from both sides of their mouth. The managers don’t want to work, aren’t approachable, won’t and don’t know how to support you. Unfortunately they trickle down to everyone else. I feel like an outcast because of how I work compared to everyone else. I work against the cultural environment here. I’m that guy who’s not smiling , who’s not sure of his future but I can look in a mirror knowing I try to be the best I can be. I just do it quietly.
          . I’ll finish by saying it’s just unfortunate that the owners of the company get bad reviews about me because of the character of others.
          . My heads high.

          Reply
      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.

        Reply
        1. gwen

          I am the same I know a lot and hAve been around but ppl seem to think I’m lieing because I have done so many things and have knowledge to offer… I was always taught pass your knowledge down so we can grow as a society all I feel is like a know it all who can’t shut up.

          Reply
    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.

        Reply
      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
      2. Calendula

        Right! Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean that it needs to be spoken.

        As in, “God, you’re cross eyed!” Might be true, but is also insulting….the same thing applies to (for example) You saying, “It makes more sense for Mary to take the mail with her when she leaves.” Perhaps that is logical, but don’t offer it out loud. You may find out that there is another reason that things are the way they are. Just because something is true and honest isn’t enough reason to say it out loud.

        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
  55. 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
  56. 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
  57. 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
  58. 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
  59. 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
  60. 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
  61. 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
    2. joe

      It would only sound repetitive for saying why I searched this concept, there are very real and intelligent responses here that I definitely relate with. This, in itself, is a great outlet for us all. I’ve been in my business for longer than I will admit. having my share of successes and failures, I’ve learned what to do and what not to do to be successful. I was hired for my experience. My biggest obstacles’ are the people in charge. they are all the owner’s friends, cousins, brother, sister etc non of which have any knowledge the business. Me, I’m their fireman and the person the owners and head manager points the finger at. I can’t get a word in edge wise but I keep cleaning up their mess. I realize I’m that guy (the not liked guy) so my focus is now on shutting up. My stress has only increased working around people who feel the way they do towards me, because of the future of this company and the future of my position here. Bottom line is, I only wanted to do what’s best for the company.

      Reply
  62. 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
    2. ed

      If I did Work 40% of the day it would be more than what anyone else there does. My managers are also either a friend, brother, cousin, son or daughter of the owner or head manager. Non of them can teach me anything, non are approachable and on top of this their decisions often are the biggest impediments to accomplishing our goals. As a lower level manager, I realized I become the person they want to point the finger at. This all started because I had to ask them over and over again for their support (I asked for support for things I don’t have autonomy for) this lead me to become the complainer in their eyes. So much for wanting to do a great job. I realized I work way to hard and care way to much. I will learn to keep my mouth shut and become more like my new best friend Seymour Doless.

      Reply
  63. 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
  64. 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

    Reply
    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
  65. 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
  66. 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
  67. Dave

    Your first Microsoft job sounds like my dream job!

    Reply
  68. 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
  69. 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
    1. AKA big mouth

      I have been share a lot of personal success to my coworker .Now I think they’re either jealous of what I had or some either got offended .Now my coworker me getting into gossiping stage I need to learn to shut up in my work place .

      Reply

Pingbacks

  1. How to keep your mouth shut …

    Am I the person always complaining?
    How do you decide when to open your mouth, and when to keep it shut?
    Or should you consider this at all?

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