Choose Your Words With Care
- Written by Nancy Williams, LPC
Do you use your backspace and delete keys on your computer or phone very often? I know I do. We write something, often hurriedly, and then realize we should have said it differently. Or, perhaps we shouldn’t have said it at all. It’s good to know we can start over. That is, of course, unless we hit the ‘send’ key and the words travel straight to the eyes, ears and hearts of those who receive our message. I’ve been editing some writing recently, reviewing how I express my thoughts and searching for the “just right” phrases to share my message. I want to communicate clearly and authentically so I’m taking the opportunity to go back and consider what I’ve written. Unfortunately, all too often, we quickly send messages to others, sometimes without enough attention to how they’ll be received and the impact they’ll have. Abbreviations and symbols fill our texts, tweets, and Facebook posts, and we assume our readers can fill in the blanks and understand our intent. Maybe; maybe not. Our words, our expressions, even our silence all send powerful messages and are integral parts of how we relate with others. Words have the power to edify, encourage, and lift someone up. They can just as quickly knock someone down, cutting like a knife and wounding the spirit. They can draw people closer together and they can tear relationships apart. Other times, they can leave us confused and unsure about a response. Yet we still tend to use words so freely, often without considering their potential impact. We impulsively blurt something out, only to regret it later on. We miss an opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings because we are afraid of saying the wrong thing. Or we say something, assuming it will be understood, only to get a response back that doesn’t make sense to us at all. We then ask: “Were you even listening?” And if the words are taken out of our intended context or the setting in which they are spoken isn’t clear, well…we know how the end of that story can read! Take the following familiar-sounding phrases, for example. While you can probably assume their intended meanings, imagine if they were to be taken literally. - Would you give me a hand over here? - She hung her head in dismay. - Her tongue got away from her. - It felt like I was coughing my head off. - His foot flew out from under him. - His eyes dropped to the floor. - I don’t know where my head was when I did that. - If you give her a chance, she’ll talk your ear off. - She threw up her hands, as he tossed his head. - His promises were pie in the sky. Okay: the above phrases are amusing perhaps, and your mind is probably now ‘bouncing around’ with other examples, but the point is worth considering. We do need to realize the power of our words. They are tools given to us to express what is in our mind and heart; we need to use them with care. We choose our words deliberately when talking to young children, as we teach them to communicate. We pause to consider our words when speaking to someone not familiar with our language. When communicating with a person who has difficulty hearing, we talk slowly and clearly. And in these situations we also check to be certain we were understood correctly. When writing, we have the opportunity—if we’ll take the time—to review our message and edit if needed. The keys: time and consideration. Bill Watterson had his cartoon characters Calvin and Hobbes share some insight that might be a word of caution for us: Calvin: “Sometimes when I’m talking, my words can’t keep up with my thoughts. I wonder why we think faster than we speak.” Hobbes: “Probably so we can think twice.” My words of encouragement? Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and choose your words with care. Let them be grounded in truth, wrapped in love and delivered with respect. Remember: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” – the Bible. Nancy Williams, LPC is a licensed counselor, life coach, speaker and writer. Send comments to her at www.nancywilliams.net.