Karen Ehman is the New York Times bestselling author of “Keep It Shut: What to Say, How to Say It and When to Say Nothing at All.” Ehman is also a speaker for Proverbs 31 Ministries, a Christian ministry seeking to lead women closer to Christ. An author of 13 books, Ehman writes for First 5, an app designed to help women spend the first five minutes of each day reading the Bible. Ehman and her husband, Todd, have three adult children and live in Michigan.
When it comes to your words, what do you wish you could delete?
According to research in Ehman’s book, an average woman speaks 7.3 million words a year, while a man utters roughly 2.5 million.
Every word we speak leaves a negative or positive relational legacy.
“I have a track record of looking back on my life and seeing how I can tether a lot of tension in relationships, fractured friendships or difficult family relationships back to what I said to them or about them,” Ehman said. “So, I had these relational conflicts, but I love to talk and give my opinion. It wasn’t until I got tired of that tension that I changed.”
How do you press pause before talking thoughtlessly?
By pressing pause and internally processing, we can prevent a lot of unnecessary pain. It’s essential to go to God before exploding on others.
Ehman said we must enter hard conversations with the correct goal.
“It’s easy to go in with your agenda, guns loaded and points you’re going to make to put them in their place,” Ehman said. “If you can from the beginning, just diffuse the tension and anger because you want to better the relationship. Even in situations when I am right, it doesn’t give me the right to act wrongly.”
Ehman shares a few simple steps:
Humility: “Being open to, ‘OK, God you know what’s going on here. This is how I felt slighted, but you know the truth because I only see shades of it,’” Ehman added.
Selectivity: You don’t need to say everything you’re thinking.
Timing: “Look at the other person’s life as much as you can to see what’s going on with them,” she said. “Maybe there’s something going on below the surface. What I usually take personally isn’t personal at all.”
How do you keep a tight grip on gossip?
Within church circles, what is and what isn’t gossip can be unclear.
Ehman defines gossip as:
> Divulging a secret you shouldn’t share about someone else, whether you know it’s true or not.
> Painting a picture that puts someone in a negative light.
However, it also helps to define what gossip is not.
“I do talk about them, but I talk to the Lord about them,” Ehman said. “I have a friend and my husband that I call, ‘My locked boxes.’ I’m not trying to gossip about them, but I’m going to them because they’re Godly, prayerful and they’ll say hard things I need to hear when I’m in the wrong. You hear, ‘You should never talk behind someone’s back.’ Does that mean you can never bring up a person to someone else? I don’t think that’s true, but you shouldn’t tell everyone when you have a problem.”
How has social media changed our communication channels?
Ehman is one of 247 million social media users in the U.S.
This endless web of communication can add greater levels of stress, making it much more necessary to tread cautiously with our use of language.
“We don’t have to put everything we’re thinking in our minds at our fingertips and type or text it out,” Ehman said. “Realize when you are online, it’s not just that person you’re talking to that will receive those words, but all your friends and theirs in the periphery will see what you say.”
Ehman shares social media’s three uses:
1. Tool: “Let people know what you need prayer for, encourage others, post Bible verses or plan your various family get-togethers,” Ehman said.
2. Toy: apps, games, searching the news, etc.
3. Tangent: “When it gets dangerous is when it’s not only luring us to waste time, but it’s tempting us to say things we would never say in person,” Ehman added. “There’s something empowering about sitting behind a screen.”
How is the exchange of words unlike any previous era?
Ehman said the 21st century tends to go to one of two extremes.
“Part of culture is, ‘You can’t say that. You have to be politically correct,’ even choosing between Indian or Native American,” she said. “There’s a pull in culture to not offend. On the other hand, there’s this opinion slinging. We used to keep our unsolicited opinions to ourselves unless we were asked. It used to be like my mom said, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’”