You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Guard What You Say

Here are a couple of my favorite sayings:

In other words, if you don't have anything good to say, say nothing.

Now, a lot of people back in Seaside would be laughing real hard if you told them these were words I live by now, because back then I didn't do a lot of thinking before I spoke. Fortunately, the guys I was speaking to had a good sense of humor, and, even more fortunately, I was able to back up my mouth on the football field.

I think the best example of this came during my freshman year, when I was just starting at Monterey High School, having been bused across town from Seaside. The first day of football practice, I'm sitting in the back of the gym, and the coach, Dan Albert, who is now the mayor of Monterey, is addressing the team. But I'm in the back talking, yapping, showing off, telling them, 'Hey, look, I'm playing varsity. I ain't playing no freshman football now, you hear me? I'm playing varsity, so you'd better get used to it.'

Now, mind you, I had not yet met the coach and had no idea of what he thought about whether I was going to play varsity, and these guys in the back of the gym knew that and maybe I knew that, but I was mouthy enough to call it like I wanted it to be called, and they're looking at me and saying, 'Man, this boy is crazy.'

All of a sudden the coach stops talking and says, 'Who's back there talking when I'm talking? What's your name, young man?'

I stand up tall and say, 'My name's Herm_Edwards, coach. But you can call me Mr. Bob.'

And everyone looks at me thinking, 'Okay, it's official. This boy is nuts. He done went crazy.'

Coach Albert shakes his head in disbelief and says to nobody in particular, 'Who is this guy?'

I say, 'You can call me Mr. Bob because I like Bob Hayes, and like Bob Hayes, who is a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, I'm going to be a wide receiver on your varsity team and I'm going to wear No. 22 just like Bob. That's who I am from now on, Mr. Bob.'

I thought Coach Albert was going to blow a gasket. Fortunately, I must have been a little bit charming, because everyone laughed and I sat back down. And then, once everyone saw what I could do on a football field, they were all calling me Mr. Bob-and that was even after I switched to defensive back because I found out Coach Albert didn't believe in the forward pass, either that or he didn't believe in the guy throwing it. I ended up starting on varsity my freshman year, and before I was done, I broke all kinds of school records, including intercepting 22 passes one season. College scouts would come watch and ask about me, and all my teammates would answer, 'That's No. 22. That's Mr. Bob.'

So if you asked them now about me holding my tongue, you'd get a lot of nonbelievers. What I do, or try to do, all the time is think about what I'm going to say and how the other person is going to perceive it. It's not easy because your mouth works faster than your mind sometimes. Especially when you're angry. Anger makes it easy to say hurtful things. And it's not always possible to take them back. It's never possible to undo the harm you've caused, even if you spend the next six weeks apologizing.

And people who are angry or hurt tend to fire back with anger and hurt. They'll find the most hurtful thing they can possibly say about you because you hurt them first.

Two sisters I know are worlds apart in personality, ambition, style, and outlook, but they couldn't be closer in their hearts. One runs a very successful ad agency, and the other is a stay-at-home mom. Their fights, I'm told, are legendary. And they've done a lot of harm to each other. Each of them knows how to push the buttons that make the other angry and hurt, and it's reached a painful point many times, especially when the sister with the ad agency makes remarks about the other sister's children and what she perceives as a lack of discipline. Then it's a chain reaction. The stay-at-home sister fires back, 'Well, you weren't around for the crying years because you were always working.' Which causes the ad-agency sister to say, 'Yeah, but at least I have money to take my child on vacation.' The cycle gets worse and worse as each tries to 'win' the argument. But who really wins? Maybe what one says to the other will be so painful that she can't get over it. Maybe it will hit so hard home that it damages their relationship. It's easy to see how it could.

Before you say something to someone, no matter what the reason, no matter what the emotion you may be feeling, it's important to think, 'What do I want to accomplish here? Do I want to hurt her back and ‘win' the argument, or do I want to get back to the place we were before the argument began, when we were having fun and hanging out?'

I've said things to people even recently that I've instantly regretted, or realized later in the night were things I shouldn't have said. We all make mistakes that way, and the important thing to do when you do say something you believe was wrong is to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. I make a mental note that first thing tomorrow I'm going into that guy's office to apologize for the way what I said came across, that it wasn't the right thing to say and it wasn't what I meant. But whenever possible, I'm a step ahead, wondering how to say what I need to say in the best way possible. Communication is a tricky game that is mastered by the best managers, coaches, and even siblings.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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