Six Little Facts to Help you Bite your Tongue and keep you from Biting the Dust

Long ago, in a galaxy far far away, I was about to step to the platform to address an energetic audience.  I was talking with a friend about the content of my presentation when the event coordinator interrupted our conversation.  He dismissed my friend with a demeaning comment and asked, “Are you going to wear “THAT” outfit  to the platform? His eyebrows were raised in obvious disgusted annoyance.  I was wearing new jeans, a shirt and a sport coat.  It was the jeans that incurred his wrath.

His condescending tone flipped a switch deep inside my soul.  My response was instantaneous, clever, profoundly logical, and……… totally inappropriate,  but my lips were already moving and I spit the words out with vengeance.

“Do you want me to not give my presentation?”

“No!”

“Would you like my assistant try  to buy some slacks  in the next, I paused to take a quick glance at my watch, 13 minutes?”

“No.”

“Perhaps you would like me to try to get one of your guests or your boss to lend me their slacks for my presentation?”

NO!!!!

“Then what possible benefit could come from you confronting me so close to my talk, AND what possible negative consequences could possibly come from me making my presentation dressed the way I am?”

My question was met with silence, an angry glare, and hasty departure.  I might become a lawyer some day!

Listen carefully friends. My misjudgment concerning the proper dress was careless but forgivable.   In Tennessee business professional means “for sure wear a coat and a shirt” and in some places it means “wear at least a loin cloth.” But no matter how clever and biting my cross examination was,  I was wrong!

My REACTION seemed spontaneous with no time to choose a better response. I later apologized and I asked God for the grace to help me find a Nano Second between the flip of that switch in my soul and my verbal REACTION so that I could at least make a decision to do the right thing.

So what did I learn???

I DO have time to make an appropriate decision and respond with grace. Unkind and demeaning treatment can throw a switch directly connected to our FEELINGS but that switch is not directly connected to our REACTIONS.

  • FEELINGS are unavoidable. It is okay to suddenly be overcome with feelings of anger, resentment, helplessness, etc.
  • RESPONSE is a choice.

Even in the midst of all the feelings that washed over me I could have said, “I am so sorry that I misunderstood the requirements.  Please forgive me.  What can I do to help at this late stage?”

Remember this little progression of truth.

  • Feelings can be triggered without warning.
  • Feelings are immediate.
  • Feelings are okay.
  • Feelings precede words.  Use that time to take a deep breath and choose your words kindly and carefully.

Am I the only one who has to hold his tongue when the heat is on?
Have you been put in a humiliating situation where you felt you lashed out spontaneously?
What secrets do you use to keep your words kind when your soul is wounded?

I would love  to hear your comments.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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71 thoughts on “Six Little Facts to Help you Bite your Tongue and keep you from Biting the Dust

  1. Ken,

    I’m glad you’ve posted this today because, no doubt, it will be a useful tool for me. But …

    As a pastor, I’ve taken so many gut punches and left hooks to the chin right before preaching that I’ve chosen a different route (it’s taken me decades to get here).

    I try my best not to bite back, but I don’t lie down anymore, either. The worst thing, as you point out, is a bumper sticker response rammed back that sets off their airbags.

    I’ve learned I can speak the truth through a soft spirit without rolling over for a needless spanking about what I’m wearing (I get that, too), the temp of the room, etc.

    Thanks for writing. You’re post will help my balance, but I’ve been leaning into punches far too long.

    LY

    • Thank you Larry,

      I agree with your thoughtful response. My response to this unthinking rude person was not an attempt to get out the truth. It was an attempt to humiliate. I think your approach is much more reasonable. For a moment I though you were going to say that your solution was to avoid people just before you speak. I would be curious to know how these blindsided, punches affected your delivery. Although I was extremely upset, I think I channeled the energy into my presentation. How about you?

      • I’m not near as good as you … yet. Some would walk to the platform filled with righteous rage and take out personally during their talk. I know you don’t do that but I’ve listened to those who do. I’m too afraid of lightning to try that one.

        Instead, it’s a syringe full of self-doubt shot straight into the veins. Bless you for even asking (<-but that's not self doubt 🙂

  2. Seriously, when you find a sure-proof solution to that problem, please share it! Not that it’s an excuse, but with ADHD, that switch is very easily thrown, and it takes less than a nano-second..It takes less than a nano of a nano second for me to respond, in at the very least angry tone, if not worse. :-\ I have this awful habit of when I’m hurt (in any way), I want those who cause me to hurt to feel the same way. The trouble is, all that results in is more people getting hurt, and there is already enough hurt in the world. **SIGH**

    Ken L.

    • Ken,
      My immediate response is to retaliate. Even if everything is say is justified and true, the words are designed for payback. That is what I am trying to change.

  3. A simple prayer my Grandmother had cross-stitched and mounted in a frame:

    “Lord Jesus, help my words be delicate and tender.
    (Because tomorrow, I might have to EAT THEM!)”

  4. Thanks Ken. I needed that reminder today. Our Pastor often reminds us….Pray don’t say…..so I take a deep breathe and pray for grace to control my tongue. I wish I could say it works every time. I am learning… 😉

  5. Very good!!! Thank you for posting this. I needed this reminder. I’m too quick with responses designed to put someone in their place, rather than showing grace to the person.

    After a person verbally attacked me about one of my writings, my friend Vernon Rainwater, who is a minister at Northland Church, Longwood, Florida said to me, “Anger is a tricky thing indeed. I will say a prayer for your friend. It often helps me to remember that someone else’s anger is not about me, but mine is always about me.”

    Good advice. People seem to get angry at each other, but often the anger really is triggered by something in their own life.

  6. Ken . . . now I know you are human. The advice my father gave me was to “never pass up an opportunity to keep my mouth shut.” I wish I had been a better listener. Try this: the next time someone really gets on you case for something you’ve done that they don’t like, apologize and humbly ask them to pray for you that very moment, right then and there, that God would teach you to do better. It is hard for people to pray for you when they are mad at you (and vice-versa).

    • Wow Wayne, You are more advanced than me. I have a way to go before I could do that. Right now I am just trying to keep from inflicting physical harm. (-;

  7. As a nurse, I deal with 99% complaints and the rare 1% compliment-even when I know I’m doing my best….so my daily prayer is “Lord, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth!”

  8. This is a lesson I’ve been trying to learn for YEARS – someone says something, I spout off w/o thinking. I’ve gotten better at it through time but… I still spout off when my feelings are hurt. I’m still trying.

  9. What happened next? Did he relent and let you give your speech? Sadly for them and him, the loss was theirs. Just curious, what kind of audience were you speaking to-Wall Street? or …

    • I gave my speech to a standing ovation. This person was not in charge of whether I gave my speech or not. He was just in charge of making people feel unwelcome. Opps there I go again. This person was in charge of the details of the conference. Evidently my jean were a very important detail. Opps there I go again.

  10. Hello, my name is Bryan, and I am a hot-head. (at least that’s what I say at our anonymous meetings)

    My profession is an artistic pastoral role – a minister of worship. I receive commentary on a regular basis which can be a volatile mix considering my factory wiring allows me to wear my emotions on my sleeves.

    About three years into my full time ministry, I lashed out at a parishoner and paid a steep price in the loss of some relationships. Over the following 12 months, I spent a lot of time in Proverbs and landed on one in particular that has become my life action verse: “Where words are many, sin is not absent.” Proverbs 10:19. In other words, shut up and listen (in Jesus’ name of course).

    It is a daily struggle to listen first and react with grace – but it has been a journey that God has richly blessed and has shown Himself through me to others in the growth of this part of my life.

    Thanks for the post, Ken – and for giving me someone with which to identify one of the toughest lessons I’ve had to face in life.

    By the way, my wife and I are looking forward to celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary on the ReCreate cruise next month! You’ve blessed both of us and we can not wait to see you again soon.

    Sincerely
    Bryan Patrick

  11. Ken,

    Thanks for this post. A couple of weeks ago a dear friend of mine went Home to be with the Lord. She was one of the kindest, sweetest, humans I have ever known. I never heard her say a bad word about anyone as long as I knew her. In fact, many times when I wasn’t as kind in word or deed as I should have been in certain situations, she would softly reprimand me with, “Now now, be nice!” Since her passing those words have been constantly in my head. I pray that I am nicer every day.

  12. I think you made exactly the right comment. I believe accountability and “open rebuke, is better than love concealed.”

    • Thanks Stuart, The things I said were true but I knew they would hurt. I wanted them to hurt. That’s the part I am trying to change. Like Larry said above, it isn’t right to just roll over either. I’m looking for that balance.

  13. Ken, thank you so much for sharing this! I have been struggling with the same thing recently, only on the opposite side; I’ve been on the receiving end lately of some comments from others who have not learned how to bite their tongues. I have gotten much better than I used to be about not allowing myself to be treated this way, but I often cast about for the right way to respond. I feel that if I open my mouth, something ugly will come out!

  14. Ken,
    All to often I will just snap back! But, I’m reminded of what my Dad used to say, “Keep your words soft and sweet…someday you may have to eat them. Or as a friend at work says, a little patience, and a few kind words, and everything will be alright!

  15. Hi Ken,
    I have always led with my emotions rather than my head. This is not always a good thing. There was a situation at our church a few years back that caused a division in the congregation. We came back from a winter in Arizona and rather than research what was going on I let the grapevine determine my heart on the situation. The whole thing resulted in a pastoral change and several months after that the new pastor preached a sermon on gossip. He’d preached on forgiveness a few weeks before that had prompted to seek out the person I’d wronged and beg her forgiveness, but this week the Holy Spirit was was doing more than nudging – He was kicking me in the butt! During the entire sermon I was bouncing in my seat, waiting for the right time to get up. Larry thought I had to go to the bathroom or something! At the end of the sermon, as we were getting back up for the praise team, I asked Andy for the microphone…(my first attempt at public speaking). God made me confess to the entire congregation that I had participated in the gossip that had divided the church and caused such pain, that it had turn the face of a friend into the face of an enemy and hurt both of us, and that I had had to ask her forgiveness for it. I’m not sure who was the most shocked that day, Larry, my friend, or me… but I do know that after I did that, I felt a whole lot better!

  16. I remember being at a meeting where a company executive asked for questions. When I raised my hand I thought my boss was going to hide under the chair in front if him. Such was my reputation for speamig without considering my environment. Thank God I’ve learned to pause and consider BEFORE I speak.

  17. Hello, my name is Janna and I, like Bryan, am a hot-head.

    I have very much enjoyed reading this article and all the comments. I was feeling very peaceful while reading, and then…..My stinkin’ computer decided to “reconfigure” right in the middle of my enjoyment! How rude! So I yelled at it as it shut down right in my face. I may have hurt it’s feelings, but it has kept quiet, so I don’t know for sure.

    Ken, thank you so much for all the laughs. You are a wonderful instrument of our Lord and I appreciate you and your ministry so very much. I have asked God if I can sit next to you for a while when we get to heaven. 🙂

    I think I will go take the lesson my computer just taught me (be quiet when a hot-head is yelling at you) and try to put it to good use.

    God Bless and Happy Thursday! 🙂

    • Janna, Thank you for your comment. I give you permission to sit next to me in heaven…. Promise not to yell at me like your computer (-; Thanks again.

  18. Ken,
    I totally relate to the problem of “reacting”. I did talk radio for many years and it became part of my nature to just “blast” a caller that said something that was, in my opinion, wrong. Even though I am a soft spoken guy, my tone and intensity mixed with sarcasm hurt many people and for that I am sorry. I deal with this even to this day after working in Christian media for ten years. I wind up apologizing a lot due to this reactionary tendency in my life. The Lord is changing me but it is a daily process. Thanks for helpin me “lighten up”.

    • Ric,

      Reading the comments, it seems that a lot of us have the “gift” of sarcasm. Just need to use it more appropriately. Interesting that the host of lighten up needs most to learn to lighten up!

  19. Thank you Ken! Too many times I let my reactions and emotions embarrass me rather than serve a greater purpose. God is working on my heart in this area, so your Punch Line hit its mark this morning.
    Personality profiles and inventories tell me that my “high I”, “energizer” tendencies make me prone to quickly engage my lips and say something witty or funny, but the same tendencies can also make me quick to “spit the words out with vengeance.”
    Thanks for your reminder that I still have an opportunity to respond appropriately.

  20. Oh my…this is something that’s been a challenge for me almost my entire life. As an outcast in school growing up, sarcasm and biting comebacks were one of my defense mechanisms. I don’t know how many situations that ended badly for me could have been avoided if I had watched my tongue. Then when I came to Christ…well…God had to do a lot of work in me. Any peace that I have to not respond in kind when someone’s mean to me is entirely God within me.

  21. Actually I liked your response. You gave him several choices as to what could be done. I am sure you did not yell these out. Wonder what kind of response he was expecting from his rude remark? Sometimes the responsibility lies with the other person. We can state our feelings without being mean as you did. I learned along time ago at Hamburger U McDonalds to put the problem back in the complainers lap. Well, what would you like me to do to help you?? That was the question of the day, of course with a smile. I love your humor, don’t be to hard on yourself, this just proves you are human. We don’t need to lay down and roll over just because we are christians. You did not attack this person, just stated the facts. It is called backbone, which God gave us.

    • Sue, I wish I could say I responded with kindness. I did not yell, but I was not kind. My response was logical but was bathed in sarcasm and designed to hurt. I also believe that we need to speak the truth, and stand up for what is right. I really appreciate your encouragement and reminder that I was really inappropriately backed into a corner.

  22. i remember, it’s not about me but God will put people or events in my life to make my more like Jesus. for example, if He thinks i need to do more work in love area, He will send someone in my path that is unlovely in order that i will be more loving. unfortunately, this works with all the fruits of the spirit!!

  23. Our pastor gave everyone on staff a quote from MacArthur, Ephesians, pg 299 entitled “The Essence of ‘Dying to Self’ Like Jesus” (author unknown). It is laminated and sitting on my desk to review every couple of days.

  24. Well… I have seen you on stage. I have listened to your message. You are REAL, you are passionate, you are SO funny. And your message is important.
    I know you are humble…but inside… you are confident of who you are, correct? And you are confident of your message, correct? You look them square in the eye and you say, “Yes. I am.”

    I, too, have a quick wit, so I kinda maybe understand. And I have found that sometimes the eyes speak much more clearly than the mouth. And in that moment that you take to look at them, YOUR eyes will see in their eyes that people like that are not worth wasting your breath on. And you can end up saying, “yes, i am” and walk on to the platform with your really awesome show and adorable way of presenting it.
    And I would guarantee, your point will probably have been made.

    Dont ever change, just remember whose worth it and whose not.

    • then again…

      Jesus’ usual response to dumb questions was.. “are you so dull?”

      so what i really think you ought to do is say.. “are you so dull? yes! of course i am wearing this on stage!”

      ahaha 🙂

      • see there… the “what would Jesus do” rule even applies.

        in this case you didnt do anything wrong, my friend, it kinda bothers me that it even bothered you. I guess what I want to say is dont curtail your passion. Its what makes you so dynamic. You were provoked.

        (i think i am done now.. haha..but with a sincere heart from one who admires you greatly.)

    • Jeanie,

      This was a very nice person. Just under a lot of pressure and I am sure he didn’t know how upsetting his words were. I won’t change what I do, but I have certainly learned to be careful about what I wear. (-;

  25. Hi Ken
    It’s good to hear some honesty among Christians. My mouth can get me into trouble so fast even I am surprised but on the other hand I find that not speaking at times is also sin. I have found this saying very useful.
    Silence is golden but sometimes it is just plain yellow.

  26. Dear Ken,
    I’m so glad you posted this. I’m 30 years old and still live with my parent’s. My father is a vietnam vet and has severe ptsd and my mother is a diabetic with clinical depression. So when they have their moments, which is quite often, I feel God teaching me patience and to just let the hurtful comments they throw towards me go. But they still hurt (of course) but in my 30 short years I’ve learned tolerance and patience. I’m sorry I’m not making much sense am I? What I’m trying to say is thank you for such a wonderful example it reminds me to be graceful and forgiving with my family. Would you pray for me? I would love for my family to be a family again. Would you Pray for my family to let God back into their lives Like I have?
    Thank You and God bless,
    Christopher Snyder

  27. I have to say I’m glad that I am not the only one who struggles with my mouth being faster than my brain. I spent 20 years perfecting the abillity to sense any weakness in people and use it to tear them down with mean humor. I hate that when I am slighted in any way my first reaction is to cut at them with words. Words that may make others laugh, but I know can really hurt deeply. I know, with GODs help, I can use this “gift” of knowing what people’s weakness are to build those up around me. I would much rather be known by everyone as the guy who always makes you feel good about yourself than the guy who tears people down whenever he gets the chance. Pray that GOD leads me in all things.

  28. I once worked for a very difficult person. Years later I borrowed a cassette tape called “Dealing with Difficult People by Rick Jones and Rick…?” (Sorry, it was 20 yrs. ago and that’s the best I can recall). From it I learned a great tactic that has bought me those precious extra two minutes needed to hold my tongue. It is called, “CHECKING.” You reflect the question or comment right back at the person saying, “Do I understand you to say….” using their words VERBATIM. The person may say, “No, I said…” While they are hearing you say THEIR OWN WORDS back to them, they have a chance to first soften and clarify the message, or confirm it. Even the few moments it takes to hear you and let them respond, can let you “get over the initial shock,” imagine Jesus smiling at you over their shoulder and reminding you, “You’re talking to me, too, pal!” The give and take of clarifications, (“So you said..,”) can go on until you accomplish mutual understanding, or, you may begin to realize you are talking to a wall. Finally, you can say, “those words are hurtful to me.” Then, saying nothing more and looking them straight in the eye if they seem to be looking for a fight, allows you to refrain from repeating yourself or escalating emotion and YOU are now in control. I don’t always remember to do this, but it has been a great way to not jump to conclusions and try to express compassion as well since, most likely, I just didn’t understand the quiet, underlying message which was heavily burdened/hidden by a lot of noise they had going on. May God bless us all with deeper self-control in these days. (Sending you a hug. –A Loving Mom).

    • Valerie, Thanks for the hug and for the insightful comments and suggestions. These will be helpful for me and others reading the comments.

  29. Ken,
    What a great article and posts below. I always said people just need to understand I am sarcastic and deal with it, but I know now it is not their fault and not that simple. In a great new job with the State, I am running around thinking I am doing so great, when I was quickly brought down to earth last week. I was told that people think I have attitude, I am quick to talk and not listen, quick to give excuses instead of admiting mistakes and hard to approach(what with the eye rolling and all). I thought I was a well-respected professional so this discussion on your page has helped me a lot to step back, ‘slow my roll’ and listen.

  30. I try to tune out feelings and tune into something pleasant. Then I apologize. Later I try to come up with a solution (after thinking and praying about it) and go to that person and tell them what I have came up with that will help in the future so that mistake won’t happen again.

  31. Dear Mr. Davis:
    Thank you for your kind words which are timely felt by me. My dear husband has dementia and he really doesn’t have much control over what he says at times. His words to me are not always kind. I, on a few occasions, have responded from emotion before I had time to think about what I was saying and what impact it would have on him. Lately, I have been praying for God to give me the grace and wisdom to hold my tongue. I am praying for patience, kindness, and the strength to remember that my husband does not mean what he says when he becomes agitated. God bless you! Anita Marie

  32. Hi Ken,
    I realise I’m commenting on an old post but I just happened to read it now. I found it very helpful to be reminded that feelings are immediate yet “I DO HAVE TIME to make an appropriate response.”
    WOW! Our feelings can be so overwhelming at times. There’s so much for me to learn at this point about being aware of those emotions. I’m probably not quite ready to work on my response yet, but I am seeking to ‘give room’ for those uncomfortable (unbearable!) feelings, to acknowledge them. I’m finding that there is power for me in this short cry for help: “God, I give you permission to take this pain, bitterness, (anger, fear, etc) out of my life”. I do find it helpful to take time later to reflect on the situation and consider if I have a pattern of defensive behavior/ negative reaction. If so, I pray (ask) “Lord bring this to death in me”. Anyway, I hope that I’ll eventually become less vulnerable to my feelings in these types of situations… thanks for writing about this very personal topic.:-)

  33. This Tyson. I have been there Ken. Thank u for putting this on here. U r right emotions r unavoidable but r response is a choice. Just like James says in the bible about our tongue flowing blessings and cursings.

  34. Howdy Ken!
    I know I am commenting on a old post, but I have the meanest temper u have ever seen. I can cut down my family and friends so badly that when I look back on what I said I feel like sobbing! Please pray 4 me as I try 2 fix my quick mouth 4 the better. Your post is really good, and I can see God has blessed u so much.
    My prayers are with u and your wife.
    Meg

  35. My boss must have super-sonic hearing. When at work the other day, I said something (not too bad) from around an obstacle. With all the noise in the ambient air, it surprised me that he could even hear it, however, he did to my ill fate.
    After the repercussion of getting chewed out, I so wish that I would have just bit my tongue, but impulse led by stirring emotions seem difficult from seemingly inevitable eruption. Oh, well, what is done can not be undone. Now I must learn how to listen much and speak little.
    Thank you for your post.