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  • Writer's pictureLarry Williamson

Words Linger

When Louann Brizendine published "The Female Brain" in 2007, she reported on average females spoke 20,000 words per day, while men averaged 7,000. In a new study published in "Science" by James Pennebaker, he reported both sexes came out about even on the average number of words spoken daily, with women at 16,215, and men at 15,669. Note: Pennebaker is also a pioneer in the research of the power of words. Research some of his work if interested.

While I find these numbers interesting, it is not the number of words we speak that is my focus today, it is the power and lingering impact of the words we choose.

What impact do our words have on the relationships we want to create?

How many of us have ever spoken words we wish we could take back? How many of us have learned after the fact that unintentionally our words had an impact on someone other that what we intended? The power of words is undeniable. And its not just the words we speak, but the tone we use when we speak them. There is no doubt there are times when the words we use and the message we intend get lost, because the tone we used in expressing them was all that was heard. Words are somewhat like smells, they linger. The difference is that the impact of our words linger for a much longer time.

It is the relationships we build that impacts our effectiveness as a parent, our effectiveness as a co-worker and a leader, and yes, our effectiveness or success as a partner or spouse. I strongly believe that the impact on our relationships as a result of words we choose on a daily basis cannot be understated.

The impact on our children ...

The words we use and tone in which we speak them impacts the self-esteem of our children. We can recognize and acknowledge what a child does right (what we focus on expands), and through words of encouragement, through support, help the child feel good about what they said or did, thus increasing the likelihood of them repeating that behavior. This helps the child feel good about themselves, gives them confidence, and can even impact their view of the world around them as they grow. They in turn feel good about their parent and even enjoy being around them... even if they don't really yet understand why. This treatment of the child by the parent, and the relationship they establish, lays the foundation for the relationships they create with others as they grow into adulthood. The impact of our words is far reaching indeed. So much more to be said about this … later.

The impact on our business relationships ...

In the business world we allocate a large percentage of our training dollars to the technical aspects of the job, and rightly so. I celebrate our focus in the last number of years on organization values and culture, and I have seen such a positive impact resulting from the increased awareness of these important foundations. In coaching sessions with executives, it is exciting to hear the number of times the topics of communication and treatment of people are brought up.

Do additional opportunities remain in raising awareness to the impact of our chosen tone and words have on our work climate, our production, and possibly even on the products we produce? I don't think there is any doubt about it. We know that many of us spend more of our waking hours at work than we do at any where else. Are there not benefits to making this more of a welcoming place to be?

So much more can be shared on this as well, but a blog can only be so long. Again, some other time ...

The impact on our spouse or partner relationships …

One thing we should always strive to remember … words, once spoken, become part of our relationship from that point on. Words just don't "go away," and seldom are they forgotten. Even when we forgive another person, and we choose not to focus on what they said, do we really forget it?

It always bothers me when I hear other couples make sarcastic jokes about one another, or exchange personal jabs. There is something unresolved behind these words (anger, resentment, insecurity, etc.). We may harbor resentment for something the other said or did, or we may not appreciate something in their behavior. Rather than discuss it, address and possibly resolve the real issue, we take the easy way out. Suppress something you feel strongly about, and it is going to show up in some way sooner or later. And as I have said before, I don't believe in the "I was just kidding."

I have heard many gifted mentors over the years express the same thing in different ways:

  • What we focus on expands.

  • We are constantly moving in the direction of our most dominant thought, so always be cognizant of your thoughts.

  • We move toward and become like that which we think about.

If what we focus on expands, and I believe it does, then the good news is that we have a choice. You want to enjoy the benefits of a wonderful personal relationship with your spouse or partner? Commit yourself to creating it! How do you do this? I doubt I am going to share with you anything you don't already know, but the secret is, just knowing them does not get it done. You have to actually do them, with sincerity, on a daily basis. While I imagine you can likely make up your own list, I share below some of my own simple yet powerful things we can do on a daily basis that will have a significant and positive impact:

  • Never let a day go by that you do not share something, face to face, that you admire or appreciate about the other.

  • Focus on the things you really like about the other. The more you recognize and verbally express these positive things, the more new positive things you will see. What we focus on expands!

  • When speaking to or about you partner, use only words that lift them up. Follow this practice even when they are not around. Yes, it can be done - My wife and I have been together for 16 years. I am proud to say that no one has ever heard me say one negative thing about her, and they never will!

  • When you express your appreciation or compliment the other, do so with sincerity. People can see through insecurity in a second!

  • Unfortunately, people are not used to receiving positive comments on a daily basis. If they seem to push back, never give up. My wife says it took her some time before she could comfortably receive being positively affirmed. Be consistent!

Grow this list by adding your own plan of action items! Know for sure that the words you choose when communicating with others are going to linger and have a long lasting impact.

Choose to make the impact a positive one!

"Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." ~~ Mother Teresa

Let me hear from you. I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

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