Continuing yesterday's theme on loving speech, the Buddha taught that all speech should be motivated by loving-kindness. To break this down further, the Buddha explained that there are four characteristics of skillful speech. First, for speech to be skillful, it must be truthful. Second, it must be unifying. In other words, you might be honestly relating something out of kindness, but if you do so in a divisive manner which breaks people apart rather than bringing them together harmoniously, you are engaging in unskillful speech. Third, you must choose pleasant words, in a pleasant tone of voice. These last two characteristics affect not the intention but the result of your speech. People respond well to a kind, loving intention. They respond better when the intention is relayed in a unifying, pleasant manner. Flattery is a breach of this third principle—while the words themselves might be pleasant, flattery is a form of dishonesty and thus is not entirely truthful. Finally, the fourth characteristic of skillful speech is that it be essential. Do not waste another's time with gossip (unecessary information) or speech that drags on and on when you could have related the information in a more efficient manner (unnecessary verbiage).
As an example, gossip (in the common vernacular) violates every tenet of skillful speech. It is often untruthful, relating "I've heards" and "X from the supermarket told me that Y said..."; gossip is often embellished. Second, it is divisive; it isolates the object of the gossip from the gossipers. Third, it is not pleasant; it relays another's faults and thus flatters the gossipers that they are superior in some fashion. Fourth, it is not essential; the information is not necessary and is usually related very inefficiently.
1-Minute Contemplation: What kind of speech did you engage in today? In any of your interactions, did you violate any of these tenets of skillful speech? How could you have said what you said in a more skillful manner?