It takes so little to make a big difference in someone’s life. The irony is that you don’t know what that something might be. At a time when we’re told to dream big and to set goals to do amazing things, we can lose sight that the little things we do can be just as important. The words we choose to say can be just what someone needs to make it through the day. It can be as simple as saying good morning to someone when they’re feeling invisible, like no one cares. On the flip side, I’ve seen two people wish someone good morning and watched as the person never responded to either person. I had never seen this before. Clearly that person never got the memo about the power of words and how they’re used.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but online games like Candy Crush have gone from a tone of encouragement about just how close you are to completing a level to making you feel like you have just done the worst thing in the world. Now, when I don’t reach my goal, a ‘Give Up’ button is displayed for me to select so that I can end this game and start another one to try again to beat the game. I am somehow a failure because I didn’t persevere by paying actual money to purchase items that will allow me to continue. How can you feel good about selecting a button that gives you a sense of failure? When I ultimately select the button, I get further chastised when a message is displayed that tells me I have ‘failed’ to achieve my goal.
These wording changes may not seem like a big deal but the feeling they generate effectively demonstrate the power of words and how they are used.
There are simple ways that we can acknowledge people each day with just a few words:
We’ve all made mistakes. Sometimes the words we use are not quite right. Sometimes there is an unintended tone to our words. Short and to-the-point emails may be seen as efficient by the person sending the email while the person receiving it can interpret it as being rude and condescending. Telling someone with breast cancer, “If you have to have a cancer, you have the best one.” may be meant to comfort the cancer patient, but the cancer patient finds it hard to believe that they’re lucky and that there’s a ‘good’ cancer.
Part of the problem is that so much of our conversations are online (for example, social media, texting, email), which makes it more difficult to read people’s reaction to our words. When you’re online, a small misstep in wording can escalate into a problem especially there is an interpretation that there is a bit of attitude in the mix. Since much of the communication is in short bits of text, it’s quite easy to see a bad tone when there may not be any. Without the luxury of seeing someone’s face, reading their body language, and actually hearing the tone of their voice, the odds increase that we will say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way.
Once you you’ve made a mistake, open communication with the person, possibly in person or over the phone (not texting), is the best way to ensure that the same mistake is not made twice. Taking the time to correct the mistake shows you care.
Absence of Words
Here are some scenarios where the absence of words is more powerful than using them:
Make a Difference
Only you can decide when to use words or eliminate them entirely based on the people involved and the situation. Whatever you decide, recognize the power of words (or lack of them) and think before you say or do something. Even the simplest words and gestures can have a big impact. Try to work a positive comment or gesture into each day and you’ll help not only the people around you, but you’ll also feel a difference in your life.
Over 30-years of writing experience, about 10 years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.
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