The power of words is so great, we should all think before we speak to someone else. Human communication is vital but it can also be a source of conflict and misunderstanding. Words have the potential to uplift or hurt someone, depending on how those words are used. That’s why it’s important to think before you speak and consider the impact your words might have on others.
Whether you’re having a conversation with a spouse or friend, giving feedback to a coworker, or challenging someone’s behavior, it’s essential to think through your words and approach. Here are a few reasons why:
Words can hurt
When you criticize someone or challenge their behavior without thinking it through, you risk hurting their feelings. Negative comments can be demotivating, and criticism can make someone feel attacked. While feedback can be valuable to help others, especially children or employees, it’s crucial to deliver it in a way that is constructive and respectful.
Words can damage relationships
Misunderstandings and conflicts can arise from poorly thought-out words. When you don’t consider the impact your words might have, you run the risk of damaging your relationship with the person you’re speaking to. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or coworker, relationships are built on trust and respect. It’s important to be mindful of how your words might impact that relationship. The wrong words can damage a relationship for years, while the right words can strengthen it for a long time.
Words can have long-lasting effects
The impact of your words doesn’t end when the conversation is over. Words can linger in someone’s mind long after they are spoken. A careless comment or criticism can have a lasting effect on someone’s self-esteem, confidence, and behavior.
So how can you ensure that your words are thoughtful and respectful?
First, take a moment to consider your own thoughts and feelings before you speak. Are you reacting to something that has upset you, or are you trying to be helpful? If you’re feeling emotional, it might be best to take some time to calm down before having a conversation.
Second, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel if someone spoke to you in the same way? What impact might your words have on them? Where are they right now in their lives or activities? Empathy is key to effective communication.
Third, choose your words carefully. Be mindful of your tone and the language you use. Use “I” statements to express how you feel, rather than making assumptions or accusations with “you” words toward the other person. Offer constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement if appropriate – not destructive criticism just to vent your feelings.
Fourth, use questions more often and judgmental statements infrequently or never. Sensitive questions allow for the possibility that the other person has a different point of view or may not be deserving of your direct or implied criticism. Don’t ask a question like the legendary “Have you stopped beating your wife?” with are prejudiced, but assume the other person is innocent, doing what was best in their own mind, and that you might be the wrong one in terms of misperceptions or jumping to conclusions.
Informational versus relational words
In their classic little book which everyone should read, Pragmatics of Human Communication, Paul Watzlawick and his co-authors pointed out many important things about human communication, including:
(1) Communication serves two main functions: the transmission of information and the establishment and maintenance of social relationships. Some communication is informational, such as “It is raining outside.” There is no hidden meaning. But other communication is relational, such as, “You have to stop doing that.” Relational communication like this implies that the speaker has the power to control the listener’s behavior. This can lead to hurt feelings, anger and misunderstandings. Think carefully about the relational aspect of communication before you speak to someone.
(2) “You cannot not communicate.” If someone reaches out to you orally or electronically such as text or email, and you do not respond in a prompt and courteous manner, you communicate that you don’t care about the other person, whether that is your intention or not. Not communicating is … not communicating! More than 80 percent of communication is non-verbal, so your body language interacting with someone can have powerful communication impacts. A frown may lead the other person to wonder or ask, “Why are you looking at me that way?” Whereas a smile on your face can actually uplift someone else’s feelings – as long as they don’t suspect you are covering something up of course! 🙂 When you are near or interacting with someone else, you have to be aware of the fact that all your behavior, verbal and non-verbal, communicates something. Be careful.
Remember, communication is a two-way street, and it’s essential to think before you speak. Consider the impact your words and actions might have on others, and choose your language carefully. By being mindful and empathetic, you can communicate in a way that is respectful and constructive, and build stronger, healthier relationships that makes everyone’s life a little – sometimes a whole lot – better.
Photo by Yan Krukau: https://www.pexels.com/