Words have a tremendous impact on this world. Some people say their hearts have been touched by words. Others say their hearts have been broken. For this year’s Friendship Day (also known as Valentine’s Day), I’m inspired to explore how words carry the weight of our emotions and intentions, and how they influence others and build relationships in your work and personal lives.
After I gave a talk about the Power of Words to Drive Innovation at the Briyah Institute this weekend, a friend and communications professional noted the irony behind the saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” It’s funny how the 19th-century phase “sticks” in memory. Why does it downplay the impact of verbal abuse?
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
The proverb conveys the idea that physical injuries caused by objects like sticks and stones can be painful, but verbal insults or negative words cannot cause emotional harm. It’s often used to encourage resilience in the face of verbal or emotional attacks, suggesting that you shouldn’t let hurtful words have a lasting impact on your well-being. It’s just the opposite. We know that slurs, verbal bullying, and name-calling can have a profound effect on a person’s psyche. Words can indeed be more painful than sticks and stones.
Words spoken in anger can inflict deep wounds on relationships. Hurtful words can linger in the minds of others long after the anger has subsided, leaving wounds that never heal. The adage, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret,” holds a profound truth. There’s great wisdom in restraint and keeping silent when anger takes hold.
“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret”
There are approximately 170,000 words in current use in the English language, yet we may use just 20,000 in a lifetime. By expanding your vocabulary, you can find new words to express how you feel and deepen your interpersonal relationships.
Let’s explore the transformative power of words in the context of relationships in all facets of your life.
1. Build bridges of understanding.
Effective communication is the bedrock of any healthy relationship. Words that convey love, support, and understanding can strengthen the bonds between individuals. Expressing appreciation, validation, and encouragement creates an environment where both partners feel seen and valued. The same applies when communicating with your team, partners, associates, bosses, and clients.
2. Use words of affirmation.
The concept of love languages was introduced by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book “The Five Love Languages,” published in 1992. According to Chapman, people express and receive love in different ways, and understanding these “love languages” can improve communication and relationships. Words of Affirmation is one of the love languages. This involves expressing affection through spoken words, compliments, encouragement, and verbal affirmations.
3. Give constructive feedback.
One of my favorite coaching techniques is the feedback sandwich. The idea is to sandwich constructive criticism between positive feedback to make the overall message more palatable and create a more balanced and supportive conversation. Criticism delivered poorly can be a motivation killer. A balance of clear and specific words, encouragement, and respect for the individual can make feedback a positive experience for everyone.
4. Be impeccable with your words.
Being “impeccable with your word” is one of the four agreements outlined in the book “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. It’s a guide to personal freedom and spiritual enlightenment based on ancient Toltec wisdom. In the context of the agreement, being impeccable with your words means using them thoughtfully and responsibly. It means being true to your word. Say only what you mean and avoid using words to speak against yourself or others. Refrain from spreading rumors, gossip, or engaging in negative talk about others. This not only affects the person being talked about but also reflects on your own integrity.
5. Use the power of words for good.
Language holds colossal power to manifest change for the good (or bad) and change the course of history. When used for good it can launch massive social movements, transform nations, and foster closer ties to the divine. Malala Yousafzai survived a Taliban assassination attempt and used her voice to champion education for girls. Nelson Mandela spoke words of reconciliation to heal a divided nation. Martin Luther King, Jr. fueled the civil rights movement. And Steve Jobs inspired millions to Think Different and innovate.
6. Choose silence.
Once spoken, words can’t be taken back. Choosing silence can prevent you from saying something hurtful or offensive in the heat of the moment. In a professional setting, it’s crucial to control your emotions and respond thoughtfully. Staying silent allows you to keep your cool and avoid making impulsive statements that could harm your reputation or career. Silence provides an opportunity for self-reflection. By taking a moment to think before speaking, you may gain a better understanding of your own emotions and perspectives, allowing you to express yourself more effectively when you do choose to speak. The Sufi mystic Rumi wrote: “Silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation.”
“Silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation.”
Words can inspire. Words can destroy. Building awareness of the impact of your words promotes harmony, kindness, and truth. It’s a commitment to mindful and responsible communication, recognizing the power that words hold in shaping your reality and the world around you.