Interview Skills: Some things are better left unsaid


My grandmother used to the expression that something was “better left unsaid” in a manner that evoked inquiry for additional detail. I suggest that we think this thought, while refraining from speaking these words.

People may forget what you said, what you did, what you wore, what the report looked like, who you worked for before, but they almost always seem to remember how you made them feel. Make them feel good. When you wonder should I? Shouldn’t I? Just don’t. You can also use my ethics guidelines assessment, If it were to appear on the front page of the newspaper in photo format, would it need an explanatory caption?

I like to call it tempered honesty. You need not be totally and brutally honest in all communications. With a nod to Colonel Nathan R. Jessep from A Few Good Men, consider whether the listener need “handle the truth”? It is not your obligation to state your opinion of everything to everyone. It often counter-productive to tell the brutal, uncensored truth as you see it, particularly as it applies to your prior employer.

In any communication, you usually don’t know what happened before they encountered you in person, on the phone or in an e-mail. Consider testing the waters and if you have a hesitation or concern about saying something, refrain from it. Content can be read in different ways depending on context and unless you have a solid relationship built on open communication, you may not truly “be there” to help explain its meaning. This applies most often when you are checking on the status of a job opportunity.

Ask yourself, “Is it True, Is it Kind, is it Necessary, (and I would add as a modifier to Necessary, is it “Worthwhile”)? This is a modification to Socrates requirement that it pass through the three sieves of truth, good and necessity. Quakers believe in the Spiritual power of Silence, to speak means that what you say is worth breaking the silence to speak. “Before you speak, ask yourself: is it kind, is it true, is it necessary, does it improve upon the silence?” – Shirdi Sai Baba.

Often, we have trouble thinking before we speak. In interviews you get nervous and can blurt something out.  In our fast-paced multi-tasking world it is hard to find the time to reflect on what we say before we say it. Of course, Making Conversation has a natural proclivity to promote conversation. But speak with care and be Front Porch Friendly. Stop yourself before you say anything that would be untrue, unkind or even unnecessary, if it could generate a negative reaction from the listener.

The Wonder Years had the example of Kevin telling his brother something horrid, after his older brother Wayne vacuumed up his pet rodent. Once said, it could never be unsaid and nothing would ever be the same between them. In Doubt, John Patrick Shanley used the shaken feather pillow example of being unable to capture the feathers of a rumor being spread once said.Sometimes it really is BETTER LEFT UNSAID!

Article by Peggy Wallace, founder, Making Conversation

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