The last of four forms of right speech identified by the Buddha is useful speech. We could start practicing this principle by affirming the intention: “I undertake the training rule to refrain from useless speech”. In Pali the word for useless speech is samphappalapa, which has an onomatopoetic ring, like blah, blah, blah.
Useless speech is talk that we generate simply to fill the air, often because we are uncomfortable with silence. Everyday greetings do not fall into this category, but are a way of smoothing relations with all whom we meet. For superficial interactions, politeness is beneficial (add kindness at will), for example, “Good morning” or “Have a lovely day”. If there’s time for more, a neutral topic can be found. But if a real conversation is happening, we can guide our speech away from silliness. If we ask “How are you?”, we stop and listen for a meaningful reply, with our eyes and ears. This is an opportunity to connect with another living being, to learn her/his present state of mind.
The ultimate form of useful speech is talk about the Dhamma; hearing, thinking and speaking with wisdom. Is there dukkha here and now (ours or others’)? Are there any words we can think or say that will alleviate or contextualize the dukkha in a helpful way? Can we bring metta (boundless loving friendliness) or karuna (compassion) to bear? Is there some joy that we might share (mudita)?
With all forms of right speech, we begin by NOT expressing the thoughts that motivate them (false, divisive, harsh or useless thoughts). We just let the words stay in our mind without being verbalized. If we don’t say them, they will fade away on their own. While we’re patiently waiting for negative thoughts to pass, we might consider whether we have anything wholesome to contribute. Silence, or keeping our peace, is sometimes the best option. If we incorporate thoughtful pauses into our conversations, we may not have the last word, but our words with be worth considering.
Note to self: more listening, less talking.
From Sn 3.3 translated by Laurence Khantipalo Mills, edited by Bhikkhu Sujato (https://suttacentral.net/en/snp3.3):