Filtering Your Speech

How to Stop Talking Before You Say the Wrong Thing

Creative business people meeting on colorful stools.

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Have you ever blurted something that came across as crass, rude, or insensitive? If so, you're not alone. It happens to the best of us. If you'd paused momentarily to think before you spoke, you can prevent many embarrassing moments.

Most people in this world have had a slip of the tongue and wished they could take back what they said during an impromptu conversation. They recognize the fact that not employing a filter in communication is rude.

Not everyone can filter. Small children often parrot everything they hear. Some diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer's and specific types of autism may also prevent people from having an adequate filter. However, most older children, teens, and adults have learned that not everything they know should be repeated in all situations. They have learned to filter their speech to suit the occasion.

There are quite a few reasons people should filter what they say. First of all, your speech affects the way people think about you. If you say everything you know, you'll lose the trust of anyone who needs to keep something private. Friends won't trust you with their deepest secrets, so they'll turn to someone else to share information they don't want everyone to know. Business relationships may become strained, and you may jeopardize your job and the likelihood of ever getting ahead with the company.


One indication of a lack of filter is gossip. When you hear someone constantly talking about others, particularly in a derogatory way, you know they have a low filter level or no filter at all. They often don't validate what they've heard, so what comes out of their mouths is completely unfiltered.

Secrets of Friends

Trust is one of the main elements in the bonds of friendship. When two people are introduced, they generally start with their filter levels on high, but as they become more comfortable around each other, they learn whether or not they can trust the other person.

The ideal close friendship is one that allows the people to be able to share their innermost thoughts and feelings, knowing the friend will keep them in confidence. This requires filters. If you know your friend doesn't filter what they say, you're not likely to tell them anything you don't want the world to know.

Confidentiality at the Office

Most businesses have different levels of employees, and the higher on the career ladder the workers move, the more company secrets they are privy to. If your boss can't trust you to keep confidential information under wraps, you aren't as likely to be considered for a promotion.

How a Lack of Filtering Affects the Way You Are Perceived

Proper etiquette dictates using speech as an asset, not a liability. If you constantly flap your jaw and talk about everything you know, you most likely won't be invited to the best parties, unless the host has something to broadcast all over town. However, that still doesn't endear you to anyone because you can't be trusted.

People at the office will avoid you during breaks and lunch because they worry you might run to someone and blab whatever they want to discuss. Your coworkers may even walk a wide berth around your cubicle to prevent being sucked into a gossip session.

Eventually, you will lose respect for yourself. After all, if no one else can stand to be around you, your sense of value and self-worth will decrease. This can cause extreme loneliness.

Learn to Filter

People who sincerely want to work on filtering their speech can learn to make changes. It takes time and effort, but with practice, filtering will become a habit. The tone of some conversations may change so it will take some getting used to.

Steps to learn how to filter:

  • Think about the times when you're most likely to say the wrong thing. Next time you are in one of those situations, keep your mouth shut. Don't say a word until you have learned to filter your comments.
  • Listen to others and pay attention to how they filter their comments. Take mental notes and practice rewording things to filter out confidential information when you are alone.
  • Practice putting your comments through the filter of truth, usefulness, accuracy, and confidentiality. Make sure you never say anything that you aren't sure is true. Don't provide information—particularly in the workplace—that isn't useful and accurate. If what you know is confidential, simply don't say it. After the first few times that you put information through this filter, it will become more natural.