I’ve written several articles and taught many workshops on the power of words. I’ve said words paint pictures and we need to think about what picture we are painting in our own mind and the minds of others.
At work we need to set clear expectations and make sure that people understand what is expected of them. Clarity of understanding, expectations, and meaning is key to positive conversation and productivity. Clear expectations are not just about work but also about home and school. People usually want to know: What am I to do? What is expected of me? What will be the consequences? And most importantly, people want to feel acknowledged and appreciated.
Recently I watched a segment on “What Would You Do?” An employee with Down syndrome is bagging and the scenario is a man and then a woman (both actors) are complaining about him being slow (speed wise) but then they start calling him slow (mentally), retarded, “these people”, etc. Words hurt. Many words have taken on negative and hurtful meanings. There are debates on what words meant in the past and what those words mean now. People in the store stood up for the employee and called the “actors” out about what they were saying about the employee.
Bottom line: We need to look at the content of our speech, the intent of our message, know our audience, and the delivery of message. My mother used to say, “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.” And I will add, “What is your body saying?” If I have a screaming face, though my words may be appropriate, my face may be adding emphasis to what I’m saying.
There is a huge discussion on the use of certain words in the press right now (I won’t go into detail as it is political and I would need a lot more space to cover it). The point is, the use or not use of certain words and phrases has set off a major firestorm, has hurt many people, and has caused polarization, losing the true issue.
I think the quote below by Gerry Spence encourages us to remember that we are all people, individuals. We have feelings. We get hurt. We love. We have goals. We often are products of our environments. Yet, we are people. I think this point has gotten lost in so many areas…in our streets, communities, businesses, places of worship, and the media.
“We are not our profession, our bank accounts, our status in life. We are people first.” Gerry Spence
People first. Words are powerful. They can lift up or tear down. They can help or hurt. They can encourage or discourage. You have a choice. Choose wisely!