I’m a believer in the power of three. For example, three is the minimum number of legs a stool, table, or four-legged creature must have in order to stand on its own and be reasonably balanced. I also think of the Three Musketeers, Amigos, and Stooges. And did you know that three is the number of bones in the human ear?
You get the idea. Three is a cool number.
With this in mind, I want to share with you the first in a trio of conversation enhancing techniques that all involve (surprise!) the number three. Today it’s the practice of: Saying the Third Thing. This idea came to me by way of my hair stylist, Dennis Kraft of Bob Salon in Austin, TX. Those of you who know Dennis know he is a delightful conversation partner. He is very clear in his communication while also being upbeat and tactful.
This is no accident.
Dennis practices the art of Saying the Third Thing as often as possible. Whether he’s talking in person or by phone or typing an email, text, or social media post, he resists saying or writing The First Thing that pops into his mind. This thought, he admits, is often…a little reactionary. He is self-aware enough to realize this.
Dennis also tries not to say The Second Thing that comes to his mind. Again, he knows this may not be the best or most considerate way to express what needs to be said.
Instead, Dennis pauses for an ever-so-brief moment, gathers himself, and then says or types The Third Thing. This thrice-distilled response often comes out sounding downright mature, tactful, diplomatic, and at times even gracious. As a result, Dennis is able to communicate clearly without all kinds of drama, ruffled feathers, and hurt feelings. As a hair stylist, this is important. But can you see how using this strategy could be a brilliant move for all of us?
Need an example? Let’s say you went to pick up a flower arrangement you ordered for a special friend’s birthday. You specifically asked for a mixture of different colored roses because that’s what your friend really likes. When you go to pick up the flowers, the florist presents you with bouquet of all white roses.
Well, that’s not what you wanted! You are thoroughly annoyed!
The first thing you might want to say: “What?!?!?! I SPECIFICALLY told you I wanted a MIX of roses!!!!”
The second thing might be: “Wow. This is NOT what I ordered.”
The third thing: “Hmmm. I ordered a mix of colorful roses, not white ones. Do you happen to have one we can swap with this? Or do you suppose you could create one while I wait? My friend really loves color.”
See the evolution? So much shifts when we can pause, breathe, and calm ourselves down.
In an era where being “real,” reactionary, unedited, cranky, and perpetually outraged is becoming more common and even the norm, Saying The Third Thing may be a soothing ticket to the nicer world we all say we want.
So, let’s all do a simple self-check here and pay closer attention to what we let ourselves say in our conversations at home, at work, and in our communities ─ AND in our correspondence and social media posts. Let’s all work to slow down and soften our replies when….oops!…we want to blurt out The First Thing or Second Thing that comes to us. Let’s follow Dennis’s lead and practice the art of saying The Third Thing.
Want to discover more ways to improve your conversations and conversation confidence? Grab your copy of my new book More Than Just Talk: The Essential Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Enjoy Better Conversations. Or let’s have a chat about my services, which range from coaching circles and consulting to presentations and workshops. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org o 512-970-8129.
Having been known to stick my feet (yes, both) in my mouth all too often, it’s a good thing I don’t have a third foot. Appreciate this advice, Patti and will practice keeping thoughts one and two under wrap.
Oh boy! I hear you! I’m so guilty of this (and more), too, Jeanne! I think as we get older (and supposedly wiser) it gets even worse! I am working on this – and all the other strategies and tips I offer in my work. I guess we teach what we need to learn ourselves. It’s a lot of work to be human!
Great article. 3 is also the power of the Holy Spirit. You continue to do great work in the world.
Yes, the Holy Trinity! Thank you, my friend!
Great advice, Patti. Many of the members of my ConvoMasters group have mentioned the trouble they have walked into by saying The First Thing. I’m going to share your wisdom with them and, of course, give you the well-deserved credit. I just hope I use The Third Thing that comes to mind as I have my conversation with them about this!
Boy, I hear you! It’s hard to slow down, pause, and think before we open our mouths!
Let me know how it goes!
Wish I would have read this before a weekend away with our daughter, her friend, and her friend’s mom. Could have used this advice with the two daughters! Great advice as always Patti. Thank you!
Hi Carla! Yes, it’s some pretty solid advice! Being impulsive with our words rarely brings us any advantage!
What an elegant strategy for creating awareness of how our thoughts create our feelings and affect our behavior — including everything we say and do. Thank you for sharing this. We can even extend this grace to other people. When we hear “the first thing,” we can listen with an open heart for the third.
Laura, thank you so much for this beautiful comment. Yes, saying the first thing is so common, but we can extend grace and patience.