Words Have Power    

I’ve written many articles on communication, largely because I’m so often surprised at how we think we’ve communicated … but haven’t. About how often we said “A,” and the other person heard “B.”

Many of us know the famous percentages of belief, especially when the message given doesn’t seem to add up, doesn’t seem quite right, when it’s what’s called a “mixed message”:

In a mixed message, words account for roughly 10% of our belief at that time, tone of voice for about 35%, and nonverbal actions for about 55%.

Wow. No wonder we’re often unsure, especially when someone’s actions don’t match their words or tone of voice.

But.

I realized recently that this applies almost exclusively to humans! I was sitting with my two dogs, Duke (in front) and Gibbs, and was using loving words and tone of voice as I talked to them. “Who’s the best puppy?” “Are you a beautiful pup?” You ARE a beautiful pup!”

Duke and Gibbs

Yeah, I’m besotted. Love them!

But here’s the point that first occurred to me: It honestly doesn’t matter what words I use; they don’t know much about language (except crate, sit, supper, walk — and a few others). I could call them stupid, ugly, or any other negative word, but as long as my voice is loving and my actions match the tone, they’re content.

Right?

Then for some reason, my mind went to the reality of our words with other humans, with our thoughts and feelings about them when we categorize and label them, when we use harsh words to see them as less than a full human.

I know that if I think someone else is stupid, I’ll start seeing that person just that way. I’ll narrow my focus. I’ll see every action through that lens. Even if there’s evidence that they’re not … my mind might also say, “Yeah, well. They got THAT right. But they’re still stupid.”

Even worse is how I might treat that person. If I’ve decided that a negative label fits, I might treat that person in a less-than-kind way. I mean, really: It’s possible my mind might not make the effort to be nice to someone I think is such a (fill in the blank) person!

I remember being on a BOD at my previous condo, and the condo manager always talking down about a couple of homeowners. And as she labeled them, I could see one or two others nodding. The hardest part? We as a BOD didn’t take their complaints seriously, because we had judged and labeled them as “PITAs” or far worse. We dismissed them due to our blinders on how we perceived them. I only spent four months on that BOD; I couldn’t deal with the ugliness.

Words do have a lot of power, often more than we realize as we’re using them. And as humans, we have the power to make choices, to reflect on what we’re saying, thinking, writing … all to ensure we’re acting as our best selves.

What are your thoughts here? Have you ever assigned a negative label to someone and regretted it?

Susan Rooks
Susan Rookshttps://grammargoddess.com/
With 25 years’ experience as an international speaker and workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication to help business professionals enhance their communication skills. She creates and leads three-hour “Brush Up on Your Skills” workshops in three main areas: American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills. And recently she created and began leading introductory workshops to help business pros maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce free of charge. As a copyeditor (and editor of nonfiction only), Susan has worked on projects ranging from blogs to award-winning children’s books to best-selling business books to corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented and free from grammatical errors. From the beginning, Susan’s only goal was to help everyone look and sound as smart as they are.

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  1. “Have you ever assigned a negative label to someone and regretted it?” Me? Never.

    Of course I have; I’m human. What I’m really trying to be conscious of now is when I sense those words starting to form a potential speech bubble above my head. I know from experience that I often don’t have enough information about the person — especially their backstory. As my wise mother used to say “If you don’t have something nice to say about somebody, ….”

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