Many of us live in communities that identify with free speech. In this arena, the words we speak may seem trivial. But are they, really?
Words are a powerful catalyst to life. They make war and instill peace. A carefully chosen word can incubate love or instigate strife. Our relationships depend on words we choose to share or withhold.
Andrea Gardner produced a short video that spoke straight to my heart. In it, an elderly man sits on a cold sidewalk. He has a small tin can and beside him is a sign that reads, “I am blind, please help.” A few passersby toss some change in his direction.
Then comes a smartly dressed lady. She picks up the sign, scribbles something on it and puts it back in its place. No sooner has she walked away than more coins swamp the blind man faster than he can pick them up. People bend over to drop their donation.
“It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it,” read the new sign. The lady had written the same message but in different words!
Speak once, listen twice. That is why God created us with one mouth and two ears! I can’t remember where I heard this from. But these words have transformed how I speak to people.
“Watch your mouth”, a podcast episode by Michael Hyatt, is my constant reminder on the power of words. He shares how small changes in your vocabulary can make a big impact on your life. He focuses on two phrases: I have to (an attitude of burden) verses I get to (an attitude of privilege).
Here are some words that I am working on. It isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are the critical ones for me at the moment.
“I told you so” verses “What did you learn?”
The first phrase communicates an element of trying to settle a score. Immediately I hear this, my defenses go up. I anticipate that a fight or that an argument is imminent. It comes from a place of sustained conflict. ‘I told you so’ usually comes from a vindictive attitude. It is usually delivered as a snide remark or harsh tone.
On the other hand, ‘What did you learn?’ opens up for a conversation. Although someone has messed up, this gives them an opportunity to contemplate and change course. It shows care and compassion from the person asking the question. This option provides for an environment of resolution and restoration.
“Starting with ‘But'” verses “My thinking was…”
Inherently, the human is self-centered. Left to our own devises, we would rather have our way every time. This attitude causes us to use words that try to justify our behavior. We close ourselves in and exclude any other person or opinion.
A significant shift occurred when I watched my use of ‘But’. I will only use it in its right pace as a conjunction, but not at the start of my sentence. This has forced me to listen better. I am now able to respond with the intent to understand, grow and encourage others (and myself).
“You should…” verses “I expect…”
When something goes wrong, how often are you tempted to say ‘You should have…!’ If you are any human like me, it can a common occurrence. At their core, these words are commonly used to shift blame to others. They become a way to absolve oneself in case something goes wrong.
However, ‘I expect…’ are words that not only delineate outcomes. They provide for both understanding and accountability. The parties get out of the conversation with clarity of their engagement. There is a higher chance at cohesion when expectations are embraced.
Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure.” ~Napoleon Hill
No matter how we look at it, words play a critical role in our relationships. They affect not only the quality of our lives, but the power of community. Words are the product of your thoughts, the abundance of your heart. Watch your words…
Q: Which other words would you add to this list? Have your say by clicking here.