Conversing with people who have no filter can be brutal. They speak without tact, subtlety, or consideration. They seem to vocalize whatever thoughts pop into their heads, leaving us to wonder: Do they ever think about what they say before they say it?
Whenever they open their mouths, we cringe in anticipation of what’s about to come out. Ironically, we’re not offended by the brutality of their honesty; we’re offended by the brutality of their insensitivity. Their lack of restraint creates an unpleasant atmosphere for everyone within earshot.
A favorite American Revolution story of mine involves a conversation between Ben Franklin and an unpolished John Adams. During a gathering of the Continental Congress, Franklin votes in favor of a proposal, despite having privately divulged to Adams his strong opposition to the measure.
When the proposal is brought to the floor, Adams voices his disapproval, expecting Franklin to do the same. But Franklin says nothing.
Angered by the elder statesman’s silence, Adams later confronts Franklin in a Philadelphia pub. He asks Franklin, “Do you not believe in saying what you think?” Franklin replies that he is quite against doing so, before famously declaring, “Thinking aloud is a habit which is responsible for most of mankind’s misery.”
Good teammates possess the discipline to refrain from thinking aloud. They have a filter, and they use it to minimize misery on their team. Their filter is a drama-reducer.
Drama enables dysfunction—an undisputed source of misery. Teams immersed in drama are too distracted to experience success. Their members are always fighting with each other, instead of fighting for each other.
Franklin believed movements are secured through diplomacy, which requires a degree of delicacy. Effective diplomats do not have the luxury of freely speaking their mind. They must constrain their thoughts and, occasionally, table their words.
Insensitive words can produce adverse outcomes, because insensitive words can be perceived as offensive words. Offensive words lead to defensive responses. Offended listeners are unlikely to be brought around to the speaker’s way of thinking. Getting listeners to change their way of thinking is the diplomat’s ultimate objective.
Similar to good diplomats, good teammates make it a habit to put themselves in a position to influence positive change. This requires them to choose their words wisely and vocalize their thoughts at opportune times and locations.
In a 1735 op-ed piece in The Pennsylvania Gazette, Ben Franklin advised Philadelphians to take precautions to prevent fires, a serious threat to colonial life. Franklin wrote: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
This nugget of wisdom also applies to team dynamics. Filtering our words is a way of preventing drama from destroying our teams. The inconvenience of prevention costs a lot less than the burden of reconstruction.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.