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.