When I was little, we had a game at school each week that would add one new word to our vocabulary. It didn’t have to have 12 letters in it. It just had to be something new. We didn’t have Cousin Google so we had to look through a dictionary and on Friday we presented this new word, the meaning and had to use it in a sentence. Sort of like a pre-test for a spelling bee. We never knew if anyone else had the same word or if would be seen as smart or if we chose a word that was just too simple. When I was the Senior Director of Training for an insurance company, we had a different version of this game. We gave a trainer a word that they had to use during a training but couldn’t tell any of the attendees what it meant…they simply had to use it. You can just imagine the confusion on some of the faces when a random word was used…correctly or not. Whether you are in elementary school, in business or in your real-life setting, you need to be aware of the words you use because words can be powerful, and words matter.
Words do matter in every situation. If you are what you eat, then are you what you say as well? Let’s think about our children and if you don’t have children, think about yourself as a child. If you are told how incredibly amazing and intelligent you are, you would feel great and after a while you would start to believe it. Now let’s flip the switch. Imagine being told you are stupid and will never amount to anything because you are a loser. Flash forward a short while later and where might this scenario take this child? Even think about something so harmless as you’re too little to do that or you aren’t tall old enough or even you are not ready to learn that. Every single word that we hear can tear us down or build us up. So which camp will you choose to be a part of?
Have you ever heard the story about Thomas Edison and his school days? There are many versions of the story but this one will show you a great example of how words are powerful and really do matter:
One day, as a small child, Thomas Edison came home from school and gave a paper to his mother. He said to her “Mom, my teacher gave this paper to me and told me only you are to read it. What does it say?”
Her eyes welled with tears as she read the letter out loud to her child… “Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.”
Many years after Edison’s mother had died, he became one of the greatest inventors of the century. One day he was going through a closet and he found the folded letter that his old teacher wrote his Mother that day. He opened it…The message written on the letter was “Your son is mentally deficient. We cannot let him attend our school anymore. He is expelled.” Edison became emotional reading it and then wrote in his diary:
“Thomas A. Edison was a mentally deficient child whose mother turned him into the genius of the Century.”
Do you see what happened versus what could have happened? It’s the combination of the words, how we use them and how our minds wrap themselves around them. Whether you say things out loud or have them running through your head, we can make the choice whether to take the positive or negative path. Our words do matter.
Let’s see some ways to use words in a powerful and positive way.
- Practice Compliments-This is something I do every single day. I give someone that I don’t know a compliment. You will never know what you have done for that person that day, in that moment. Don’t give the compliment and wait for one in return. You might get one or you might not. The point is giving one will make you both feel great.
- Practice positive affirmations-I know this sounds weird to do but remember, you are the one that is listening to that self-chatter. Instead of thinking this dress makes me look fat, how about thinking how great this color is on you or how confident this makes you feel. Instead of thinking you are not smart enough to do the presentation, change it to that you are going to share some incredible information with your colleagues that can help them with their jobs. It’s a change in your mindset and a rewind of the tapes in your head. If you can’t come up with anything positive immediately, make a list of positive quotes and put them all around you and practice saying them out loud. You’ll get the hang of it…and your mind will be waiting to hear them.
- Think before you speak-We all come into situations that can change our attitudes in a blink. Before you say something and react to that, think, breathe and decide how you can respond without being so reactive. Don’t think for one minute I am saying to ignore what is said. I’m saying to think carefully about what the message is you want to convey and do it professionally and intelligently. This is where learning new words can come in handy.
- If you have done something that is wrong, learn to apologize. Own your mistake and understand how your words may have made a negative impact on someone or something. Don’t say you are sorry for the weather or something you have no control over. That is a different conversation for later. Apologizing when you mean it is very powerful and again…words matter.
- Remember what you are grateful for. We all have so many things to be thankful for…and not only in November, our Thanksgiving month. I’ve noticed that people have forgotten how to say thank you. Two tiny little words that when said, can mean the world to someone else. Change your mindset, change your world. How about doing that for someone else?
As Dave Hedges said, “The words you speak are powerful. They can mend a broken heart and help repair a shattered mind. They can also destroy a person’s confidence and make people feel worthless. Choose your words carefully.”