I used to say that words mean nothing without actions, but my opinion has shifted. Words, in fact, are powerful. With or without intent, we can change people’s lives—for better or for worse—by what we say and how we say it.
When my father passed away, for instance, my family received a condolence note from someone I did not know. A customer of the retail business my parents owned, she expressed that my father had always treated her elderly mother with genuine kindness and respect. Both mother and daughter, therefore, considered him to be one fine individual and would remember my father always as the quintessential Southern gentleman.
Clearly putting time and thought into what she wrote, the woman touched my heart and left me with a beautiful image of Daddy. She also made such an impression on me that I began to follow her example, adding “little stories” in the sympathy notes I wrote with the hope of comforting others with a sweet memory.
Such is the power of words that one simple yet thoughtful expression can lift another’s spirit and, in turn, inspire the recipient to spread goodwill to others.
In sharp contrast, I know of adult siblings who disagreed over how to care for their disabled parent. Rather than engage in rational discussions about feasible options and, perhaps, reach a peaceful agreement in the matter, one sister seemed incapable of having a calm, thoughtful conversation. Spewing a series of angry, hurtful statements, she left emotional scars that were as powerful as kicks and punches.
Unfortunately, certain words can be so cruel that they, like some bruises, never heal. Determining that future attempts to communicate with her would unfold in the same manner, the primary recipient of the sister’s rage decided to sever all ties to avoid continued verbal abuse and distress that resulted.
Such is the power of words that one’s lack of control over speech can permanently destroy a relationship.
An absence of words can also produce all kinds of misunderstandings, as when a client of my business friend failed to respond to requests for feedback about a project in progress. Although my friend knew from past experience that the particular client tended to be overscheduled but would eventually reply, he continually worried about when and if the customer would approve each step of the process.
Rather than waiting around for answers, my friend had to take the reins and follow through in a polite yet no-nonsense manner. For any future business dealings, I suggested that he openly discuss when and how the approval process would take place so that projects could move forward on a timely basis with less stress. Taking my advice, my friend met with his client and learned that the individual didn’t want responsibility for making small decisions. That was why my friend, a professional in his field, had been hired in the first place. The two parties, therefore, reached an agreement that the client would not review anything until the final stages. If any adjustments were needed, they would either be minor, or the client would pay for revisions.
Such is the power of words that avoiding someone can waste more time and energy than taking the time to communicate.
I could offer countless examples of how words alone have the power to alter feelings, thoughts and actions. For now, my goal is to prompt us all to be more consciously aware of what and how we will communicate with others.
What’s on the tips of your tongue or fingertips? Pausing to consider the consequences, should you hold back or let your words go?
My best to you,
Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady Inc.