"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
It's the advice of moms everywhere, and we could probably all stand to apply it a little better.
June Y. Chu, who served as dean of Pierson College at Yale University, certainly wishes she had done so.
The New York Times reports:
A dean at Yale who was placed on leave after she left online reviews recommending a restaurant for "white trash" customers and describing movie theater workers as "barely educated morons" has left her position permanently, a college official said.
June Y. Chu, who was appointed in May 2016 as the dean of Pierson College, one of Yale's residential colleges, posted a series of reviews on Yelp that were published by The Yale Daily News last month with screenshots of 10 of them dating back to 2015. The newspaper said that the reviews had caught the attention of Pierson students and had circulated among them.
On Tuesday, the head of Pierson College's administrative office, Stephen Davis, said in an email to students that Dr. Chu was no longer its dean.
Dr. Chu has since deleted her Yelp account and apologized to the Pierson community. Her email included the following statements, according to the newspaper:
"I have learned a lot this semester about the power of words and about the accountability that we owe one another. My remarks were wrong. There are no two ways about it. Not only were they insensitive in matters related to class and race; they demean the values to which I hold myself and which I offer as a member of this community."
What We All Can Learn
No one can deny that the world we live in glorifies mean-spiritedness.
We reward hostile and bitter sarcasm with retweets and likes; we angrily post malicious online reviews that we would never voice to a business owner face-to-face. Comment sections of most major news stories are full of ad hominem attacks, insults hurled between people who have never even met each other.
Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that modern technology makes it so easy to speak, write, post, and tweet when emotions are high and we're bound to say and do something we'll later regret.
So, how can you avoid making the same mistake as Ms. Chu?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you. It includes techniques like "the pause," which in essence is simply thinking things through before you speak or act.
But before you chalk that up to common sense, you might acknowledge that the pause is much easier in theory than it is in practice. Just think about the last time you spoke too quickly and stuck your foot in your mouth: We all do it, most of us daily.
But there's a simple, 3-question technique that makes a dramatic difference in your ability to use the pause. I learned it from a surprising source: comedian and television host Craig Ferguson.
There are three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything.
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said by me?
- Does this need to be said by me now?
I've used this technique for years, and it's prevented me from getting into countless arguments--online, at work, and even with my wife. (Ferguson quips it took him three marriages to figure this technique out in the first place.)
To be clear, the 3-question method doesn't discourage speaking up where appropriate. There are times when you have to tell someone something they don't want to hear, and yes, a restaurant may truly deserve that bad review.
But you can be honest and direct while still being kind and tactful. ("Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy," penned Isaac Newton.)
And before posting anything online, it pays to honestly answer a few more questions:
- Would I say this to the person if we were face to face?
- How will I feel about this in a week? a month? a year? Is it really worth the trouble?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then you can speak with confidence--without regret, and while living in harmony with your values.
Best of all, you'll be making moms everywhere just a little bit happier.