Saying the second thing

We’re familiar with the phrase ‘put your foot in it’ or ‘put your foot in your mouth’ as an expression of saying something tactless or embarrassing. I’ve often referred to it as foot in mouth disease. I believe we’ve all done this at some point and don’t want to repeat it, but here’s the thing – the skill isn’t saying the right thing, it’s actually saying nothing or even the second thing.

Many people feel the need to say something even if it’s not warranted or expected. It’s similar to a less is more principle, especially when working amongst teams, leading others or even being in the spotlight where you need to get a key message across. Unfortunately, in an effort to impress or be funny, we say things that can be misinterpreted and leave others wondering what we really meant to say.

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” – Benjamin Franklin

Years ago, a manager of mine told me that a good practice when tempted to talk is to often say the second thing that comes to mind. It was his way of saying don’t be so quick to speak, think first and judge whether what you’re about to say is helpful or just plain stupid. I can tell you, it has saved me loads of times.


First impressions are important but so are ongoing impressions and often, we’re judged by the things we say. Try practicing the principle of saying the second thing.

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