Pause When Agitated – Or, Whenever Opening Your Mouth

We’ve all heard the phrase, “running at the mouth!” Typically, this is not a good thing. You never want to be accused of doing it. I bet you’ve heard examples at meetings of this behavior? Maybe even you, like me, have been guilty of it across the years.

With that in mind, I suggest, in addition to pausing when agitated, pausing before speaking is also great advice. All. The. Time.

Pausing to consider the context in which you’re speaking, formulating what to say, all the while debating if you even need to speak at all, is a best practice. This conscientiousness in communication is not only great for meetings but also in life.

Some Examples

I don’t know about you, but I often am overcome with “foot-in-mouth disease!” saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Misspeaking usually occurs when I start talking without much forethought. While this type of exploratory “thinking out loud” is excellent to do one-on-one with a sponsor, friend, or therapist, it is not the most conducive way of sharing the AA message. Hence, pausing to think about what you want to say can help you avoid something you’ll later regret.

Another place where people foul their well-intentioned communications is during sensitive conversations.  Notoriously I asked a woman I hadn’t seen for a while, “When is the baby due?”

“I had the baby two months ago!” she said as I quickly found a rock to climb under.

BTW – I’ve never done that again!

Empathy Example

Often when people are going through hard times, the human instinct is to reach out and say anything.  Connect. Then, what happens is both stereotypical and not at all helpful.

Take the example someone shares at a meeting, “My mom died this week!” After the session, someone feels compelled to approach the person and launch a conversation about how THEIR MOTHER DIED.  The instinct to connect sympathetically is spot on, but the execution is off the mark. This quite simply is not a good strategy.

Having been on both sides of that type of conversation, here’s what I learned. First, the person with the loss does not want to hear about your loss. They also don’t want to get into a “loss contest” whose loss is more significant or more challenging. I’ve heard people do this, again, nearly always with the best intentions. But I can’t stress enough that this is not particularly helpful.

The best case is to directly say, “I’m so sorry for your loss!” Then leave it at that. Offering help is both kind and generous, but for someone, you haven’t seen in years? Maybe not.

Also, if you are perplexed by what to say, you can say, “I don’t know what to say. I just wanted to give you some support.” Leave it at that. They’ll appreciate that more during a challenging time than hear you relive something unrelated to them that happened years ago.

Conclusion – Restraint of Tounge and Pen Strikes Again!

Pausing when agitated or doubtful is a solid and popular AA program concept. Everyone understands the value. The pausing concept was expanded in the 12 +12 with the oft-quoted “restraint of tongue and pen” line.

So, next time you want to say something, pause. Then consider both who you’re talking to and what you want to say. Consider that what we say in meetings and each other is essential and can impact, positive or negative. Finally, ask yourself, does this need to be said, now, by me? Sometimes the best share is the one not given.

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