Coach’s Corner – Words Matter
Many years after my blog post advocating silence, I am following up to encourage you to choose your words wisely. After you’ve had a chance to observe and contemplate everything around you, being thoughtful rather than being reactive with your words will serve you, and the well-being of those around you, much better.
You’ve long known that in communication, non-verbal cues are more important than what you say. A study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA found that the verbal element of communication only contributes 7% to the effectiveness of our message (other elements are Visual – what we look like, and Vocal – how we say something). Much has changed since this study was conducted in the 1970s, especially in the workplace.
The advent of more distributed teams, less face-to-face communications, a more sharing economy and transparent workplaces means we are more reliant on words. Our more isolated work environment also means we are left to interpret much of the message ourselves. At the same time, the yearly performance reviews are quickly getting replaced by an increasing demand for regular feedback from a new generation of colleagues.
I am learning through many experiences in coaching and facilitating workshops how I can be more thoughtful and productive with my words.
- Expand my vocabulary – Starting with the most practical thing I can do, I am learning new words to accurately and precisely express my feelings and thoughts. Cast-out uninspiring and ambiguous words like “disappointed” and say what you really mean. Language should be explored! (I recommend watching a couple episodes of Downton Abbey to appreciate the potentials of the English language.)
- Reflect on the topic – Before I say what I mean, I need to know the meaning of what I say. It does not serve us well to blurt out our first thought, then come to regret how we misspoke. I think about the forces compelling me to speak – is it to help others, to look smart, or perhaps to fill the silence?
- Increase social awareness – At a personal level, our words affect the well-being of those around us. Think about a time when you’ve scolded a child, or used angry words to ones you care about, and you’ll understand what impact this has on a person’s self-esteem, trust, and self-worth. Whether or not I agree with or understand how someone might believe or behave a certain way, I owe others a heavy dose of empathy and respect before I communicate.
Of course words matter! The word is a powerful tool that can cut down or build up those around us. It can be difficult to think of the precise words to use, know what to say or what questions to ask, and be considerate of those we speak to. However, choose wisely we must. I choose to start by using my words to show those in my life I care and appreciate them.
How much do words matter to you? Please share your comments below.
Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.
[Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash]
Words are so important, and they they seem to stay with us for a lifetime. I'm often amazed that something said to me as a 12yr old can still pop into my head as if it was yesterday and still sting after all this time.
I try to use this as a reminder that things that I say in haste might stay with someone else for a lifetime (even if I apologise for it) and yet during frustrating and stressful times a few words still manage to slip past the gatekeeper.
Thanks for taking the time to remind us of this. 🙂
I totally agree with you and Jason.
Personally, when I receive not pleasant info (directly or by e-mail), I always tries to convince myself to not answer directly. I tries to let my emotions down and then I answer in the best way I can.
Unfortunately sometimes such firewall fails and then at the moment of saying or sending the answer I already know, that I've made mistake. Fortunately such situations happens less and less to me.
Thank you for your comment Łukasz Pęgiel !
I like your technique of pausing before replying to unpleasant words. That’s such a nice example of being aware of your triggers, and managing your own emotions. Our ‘firewalls’ do fail at time, yes! (LOL) Glad to hear it happens less these days!
You might be interested in reading my post about “triggers”: https://blogs.sap.com/2018/11/21/coachs-corner-feedback-the-gift-thats-hard-to-accept/
Nice article 🙂 I can get something out of it. Thanks!
Thank you Dot Eiserman for your thoughtful comment! It’s true that mistakes can happen. Apologizing when you realize you said the wrong things is certainly the right (and wise) thing to do. We may never forget an incident, and the relationship may never be the same again even after apologizing - I happen to think that these relationships may be stronger (!) because you apologized.
As someone said...words are trivial and forgattable and nothing on earth stays forever but none of our deeds will ben invain.
Sometimes words can create an action but this doesn't mean we're doing well 🙂
Apologizing? With someone it works with someone else not.. Human being it's complicated... someone needs bad words, someothers needs sweet words..
You will never know someone deep because you cannot know his/her life..
Pausing when replying? As you said it's a technique and most people nowdays know it; so if I know it's a technique probably I'll think about you as a lier.
If you do too much, people start to depend on you; and if you do nothing, you lose hope. You always have to go easy, like a burglar or pickpocket, or like someone who burns a bar to pocket the insurance money, blaming a fault.
Thanks for your comment Roberto!
Communication is indeed complicated as you said. It can be challenging to know how others will receive our message (as we intended or in a different way we did not intend). One thing that is within our control is the words we choose, and the promise we can make to ourselves to do the best we can to improve how we communicate. This requires a great deal of patience, self and social awareness.