Sam Holstein

The One Question You Should Ask Before Speaking

So often when we open our mouths, we aren’t considering what the other person wants to hear. We just want to say what we want to say. Someone shares a funny story. We want to share a funny story. They talk about the clothes they bought recently. We talk about the clothes we bought recently. We can spend hours having a conversation that is so meaningless both parties forget it as soon as they walk away from each other.

What makes these conversations so meaningless? How do we have meaningful conversations?

I could list off generalities. Listen well. Pay attention to the other person. Avoid small talk. But if you’re anything like me, all these rules get cluttered in your head and fly out the window the second you’re interacting with someone. Instead, I propose that before speaking, we ask ourselves one thing:

Is what I want to say something they want to hear?

That one question forces us to confront these rules of proper human interaction. To know if someone might want to hear something, we have to listen to them to understand what they might like to hear. We have to pay attention to the cadence of the conversation.

For instance, if you are talking to someone about comic books and you suddenly remember your unrelated vacation to Mexico, there’s a good chance your conversation doesn’t want to hear about Mexico. What they want to talk about are comic books.

This question is a good barometer for tougher topics, too, like talking about relationship troubles. You may feel a desire to switch the focus of a conversation to yourself, but ask yourself: does the other person want to hear about that?

This question is a good barometer for even the toughest subjects. We’ve all been in a situation where we had to confront someone about something unpleasant. A partner has started a bad habit which is damaging to the relationship. A business associate is recommending a strategy which is terrible for the business.

It looks like these people don’t want to hear about it. No one likes having their flaws pointed out. If you were to ask these people in a theoretical capacity if they would like to know if they are tanking their relationship or their business, though, I bet they would want to know and would want you to tell them. So, this then falls under the purview of ‘something they want to hear.’

If you’re having trouble judging if what you have to say is something someone would want to hear, ask yourself this question: “Will it matter in five years?” The chances are that if it will, they want to hear it, positive or negative. If the answer is no, then maybe what you have to say isn’t so important after all.

Applying this simple rule can make a huge difference. If you only say things others want to hear, people stay engaged. They want to talk to you more. And they want to talk to you about more things, too. Conversations that were previously empty and pointless begin to fill with meaningful words. Talking to others is no longer a chore. It’s what you look forward to when you wake up in the morning. Why? Because chances are if what you are saying bored them, what they are saying bores you too. When you take the step to say only what people want to hear, people always want to hear what you have to say.