Etiquette of Advising Others and Public Speaking

Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

One of the blessings of God Almighty to humankind is the ability to express our feelings and thoughts. As we learn in Sura Rahman, it was God Who taught us to speak; thus, He created us with the natural ability to use words to express ourselves.

The Qur’an says, “And say to My servants that they should always speak (even when disputing with others) that which is the best…” (Isra 17:53), reminding us that good and kind words, as well as good counsel, can resolve hard feelings between hearts. In fact, when Moses and Aaron were sent to Pharaoh, God commanded them to “speak to him with gentle words” (TaHa 20:44).

From this perspective, even if we are speaking to someone who is an unbeliever, our religion directs us to approach them in a gentle manner. Again, in the Qur’an God took a promise from the Children of Israel to “speak kindly and well to people” (Baqara 2:83). Today, when we are speaking with those who are different, we should remember this Qur’anic command to speak gently and kindly. No matter who we are speaking to or what we are talking about, our manner of speech should be such that it will not put them off. The Messenger of God said, “A bad word will poison the entire discourse, making it appear ugly.” [Tirmidhi, Birr, 47]

Here follows a list of principles that need to be considered when speaking kindly and giving effective advice:

1. It is helpful if the addressee or audience can easily follow the line of thought in your talk and pick out the main ideas. Any kind of address can be made more effective by using clear transitions to signal the end of one point and the beginning of the next, and therefore listeners will know when the topic is changing. The main ideas should be pointed out at the beginning so that the audience can see where the speech or conversation is heading and how it is related to them.

2. If the audience cannot determine how the conversation or advice is applicable to them, the natural result is that they will lose interest in the subject. Therefore, when introducing a topic, one should state at the beginning how the advice can benefit those listening.

3. Ending a talk by saying something like “That is all I have to say” is unsatisfactory and reduces the effectiveness of the conversation or speech. The end of any speech is in fact more important than the introduction. To finish a talk in a compelling way one should reemphasize the purpose or main point of the speech, and the speaker should aim to inspire the listeners; after this the speaker should close by expressing pleasure for attention shown and thanking the listeners.

4. Advice should be clearly given and explained well; evidence should be provided for anything that others are to understand or accept.

5. Do not be afraid to speak the truth.

6. When addressing people, speaking about anything that is not useful knowledge concerned with religious or communal principles should be avoided. It should be obvious and clear to the audience, from the moment one begins to talk, what the subject is and what kind of things are going to be said about it.

7. Not even the smallest word, allusion or gesture that implies a form of ridicule or scorn should be included in any advice.

8. No matter what the topic of the advice or exhortation, the speaker will ultimately reveal something of their own personality. They should keep in mind that it is unfeasibly difficult to incite others to laudable actions without offering their sincere opinion on the issue. For advice to be effective, it is crucial that the speaker truly believes what they are saying; the audience should be able to perceive this belief. It is useless to try to make others believe what one does not believe oneself.

9. Keeping a serious tone and composure while speaking to an audience or giving advice is preferable.

Translated by Jessica ÖZALP

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