Despite the evident strength that body language and tone exude in communication, with context claiming only 10 percent of the trio, whether spoken, mouthed, written or sung, the power of words predominates in empowering, encouraging, entertaining, comforting or irritating or frightening others.
Words in all their forms and styles require the most concentrated effort and discipline in performance and communication. It’s no secret that the global world revolves/swirls around expressed ideas and our smaller yet insignificant personal world is no exception. Words wield so much damage, intentional and unintentionally, and yet, as Prov. 25:11 proclaims “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” --incredibly simple, valuable and good.
A portion of a friend’s email inspired this week’s focus on the intrinsic power of words. I fear I was a little abrupt when we were making arrangements. As I was reflecting on the day, I realized I kind-of snapped at you. I apologize if I handled this poorly.
My reply was something like: Undo your angst. I was completely unaware of any snappiness.
But my takeaway from this simple example has been many-fold. Her concern that her words were possibly hurtful, reaffirmed that she cared deeply about my feelings, which I have never doubted, but knowing that someone treasures a friendship enough to apologize is admirable. Her self-examination was a good reminder to review my own conversations for any unintentional flaws. A previous blog mentioned how my brother, Mac, a counselor, reserves disciplined time each evening to evaluate his dialogue which might have been unwise or misunderstood and in need of an apology or explanation.
Checking up on a conversation reiterates the innate importance of a few words. I think it’s far easier for the speaker to check with the listener than the other way around. But I believe the wisest move if you have been hurt, unduly angered or surprised by someone’s words is to approach them regarding your emotional injury. Most often, they will say, “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded, or I’m very sorry that I misspoke, please forgive me, or thank you for telling me.” Going to the speaker actually becomes a gift to encourage him/her to watch words more closely and refine dialogue. Another takeaway was that smoothing out conversational ‘opps’ doubles as bond-building.
Words, verbal, written or sung fall into categories of lovely, hurtful, helpful, meaningful, comforting, upsetting, eye-opening, encouraging, stinging, heart-warming, insightful, revealing and challenging just to name a few off the top of my head.
The skill of dialogue or writing requires understanding and discipline to keep words accurate, honest, understandable and pertinent. Descriptions of obvious speaking situations are oaths, pledges, promises and vows to name several. Significant statements as well as lyrics, poetry and scripture have been memorized for thousands of years.
I remember during an early spring walk through a park near Moody Bible Institute on a Sunday afternoon the first time Jim ever said to me, “I love you”. It made such an impression on me that I even recall that I was wearing my green and blue plaid dress. Six months later in Odessa, Texas, he asked “Will you marry me?” which I wrote about in a recent blog. Then, a year later at our garden wedding I can still hear his voice as he repeated after Dr. Macauley “I Jim, take you Ruth…” as 30 guests shared our special day. Other words that I’ll never forget occurred on March 16, 2020 as Jim was wheeled into our front
door at 5 pm just as the nurses had promised, he raised his arms high and thankfully proclaimed “I’m home!” The children and I cherished every word that he uttered for the next 10 days as we took care of him. A couple of days before he died, he squeezed my hand and asked “Will you be alright?” I assured him I would, and heard his last “I love you.” These precious memories are etched in my heart. Take a few minutes to research your mental treasure trove of memorable words. Try not to cry, like I’m doing.
The timing of words that are said, as you all know from personal experience, is equally important ranging from emergency messages to uninterrupted peaceful silence. Again, reflect on times when words alerted you to a danger or a quickly disappearing beautiful scene, prayers or nonchalantly chosen messages when the speaker had no idea his/her words would be exactly what you needed to hear.
Learning when to speak or when silence is preferable resembles walking a tightrope, even though I’ve never experienced that physically, but the same skill is involved in maintaining balance: looking back, glancing ahead and looking straight ahead. Carefully choosing the right words and timing becomes an everyday practice and evidence of our love and respect for others.
Extroverts have little problem coming up with words and entering into conversation, but they have to undo the idea that they are responsible for filling up the airwaves. It is comically true that many extroverts do not know what they’re thinking until they hear themselves talk. Conversely, introverts have plenty to say but wait for a chance to speak. When conversing with an Introvert, remind yourself to be quiet allowing them to speak first and/or invite them to share their opinions or experiences. Introverts have much to say, but conversation wears them out, especially if there are several in the group. They dislike phone calls or answering the door. Many introverts have shared how tiring it is to be forced to be extroverted at work if they have to be on the phone or in dialogue with customers. My book How to Get Along with Everyone discusses in detail the differences between Extroversion and Introversion.
The bottom line is to be aware of the power of words that lies within each of us. Cherish conversation and be cautioned to think before speaking. Our Introverted and quiet mother reminded us often “if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” That would eliminate gossip, wouldn’t it?
I love the Lord for he heard my voice. He heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. Ps. 116:1-2 (NIV)
The grass withers and the flowers fall but the word of the Lord stands forever. Isa. 40:7 (NIV)
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path. Ps. 119:105 (NIV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Col. 3: 16-17 (NIV)
Father, thank you for the joys and responsibility of conversation and communication. Help us to be wise, kind and helpful in how we use words.