Words can change lives, careers, and organizations forever. Because of words, leaders have fallen. Businesses have gone bankrupt. Wars have killed thousands. But most of us won't be talking to heads of state or CEOs. We're talking to the people next door, our brother-in-law, and the coworker in the next cubicle.
I've lost more sleep over words than from any illness, work, or obligation in my life. Words that I wish I'd said and didn't. Words that I've said and wished I hadn't. Words that others have said to me that cut deep. Words that others didn't say to me that still managed to leave a hole in my psyche. Words that rolled off my tongue too quickly. Words that I swallowed and held onto far too long.
Let me get more specific about the power of words to change the course of lives, families, and organizations:
The Power of Positive Words
With positive words, we can accept, admire, admit, advise, affirm, apologize, bridge, build, calm, challenge, cheer, clarify, comfort, compliment, counsel, defend, discover, dispel fear, encourage, enlighten, evaluate, explain, extend, forgive, free, heal, include, inspire, introduce, lead, model, mold, nourish, persuade, plan, praise, pray, predict, prepare, reveal, support, thank, trust, uplift, warn, and welcome.
And the wonderful thing about words is that they're not fattening, expensive, or scarce. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to spit them out.
The Damage of Negative Words
But unfortunately, negative words creep into business transactions and conversations--particularly those about performance. With those, we alarm, cajole, cast doubt, blame, complain, confuse, cripple, criticize, deceive, delay, diminish, disappoint, discourage, disillusion, divide, embarrass, embellish, exclude, frighten, gossip, insult, judge, lie, limit, manipulate, mislead, mock, nag, needle, paralyze, punish, rattle, reject, sabotage, scold, stereotype, trap, and trouble our colleagues, clients, and family.
Easy Access Does Not Equal Lightweight
The sum total of your life's relationships -- and influence -- rests on your day-in and day-out use of words. Not at the big event. Not during momentous occasions. But in those simple conversations.
Everybody has access to words -- this tool of insight, innovation, and influence. Common conversations can be profound. There are few greater responsibilities as a leader than to weigh your words with wisdom.
What high-impact conversations do you remember that changed your thinking and your life forever?