The Power of Words

First published Saturday, January 18, 2014

Shortly before Christmas I met with someone who I had corresponded with for a year, exchanging constructive criticisms, general dialogue of a professional nature, and the occasional joke. It was one of those conversations where time available wasn’t sufficient to discuss everything intended, but nonetheless a productive and interesting hour, and as often happens when in conversation with interesting and intelligent people,  I went away with more ideas on subjects I wished to investigate further, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for many of the things I currently do.

Earlier this week, I had another such conversation with a colleague which, whilst covering a completely different range of topics, once again inspired renewed enthusiasm, and provided an opportunity to reflect on progress to date, and gave some clarity to the steps to be taken in the continuation of certain work streams and so on. On the same day, I also ran into someone I’d not seen for several months, who again had been a source of support and inspiration previously, and through a brief conversation in the middle of a business networking event, unknowingly provided an opportunity for reflection for me.

Each of the above conversations ended with either a compliment or an expression of thanks for an introduction, or work completed. Over the course of the weekend so far, with three young boys exchanging jibes, comments and general sibling rivalry, along with passing the time listening to various songs and by association the lyrics, I’ve been thinking about how we as a species interpret words. There is an age old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. There is perhaps some truth in that to an extent, but it largely depends on the outlook and state of mind of the person on the receiving end of those words.

In the last week I’ve been referred to (jokingly) as ‘bonkers’, a ‘good woman’, ‘inspiring’, ‘driven’, ‘passionate’ and as someone who was ‘buzzing’ (excited, ‘high’), amongst other things. Now the ‘bonkers’ comment made me laugh, and in the context of the conversation was, to me, entirely justified as a friendly exchange of comments. I am perhaps quite lucky that the other descriptions above make me feel quite pleased, and also, I hope, reflect who I am, what I do, and what I try to stand for. All of the above descriptions (even the bonkers one) have had a positive effect on me, made me appreciative of who I am, and the impact I have on other people.

In the past I have been on the receiving end of less positive comments, having experienced bullying (mild, but still bullying) in school, and difficult situations in different working and personal environments. When self confidence and self belief are at a low ebb, it is very easy to take negative comments to heart, to believe them and continue in a cycle of self doubting, self hatred and a continued erosion of confidence. As a result I am working hard to ensure that the words I speak to my boys, their friends, my colleagues and others are carefully chosen. Obviously there are times when a less positive message has to be conveyed, whether it be about performance at work, or behaviour at home, but how that message is delivered can be the difference between levelling the play field and inspiring improvement, or chipping away at the fragility of an ego or mindset.

The last couple of weeks in particular have provided something of a ‘shift’ for me in how I see things, how I interpret and understand them, and how I choose to allow them to affect me. The reasons for much of this are personal and will remain so, however it all arises from the power and impact of words, combined with my attitude towards them. The effects of this ‘shift’ are positive, and after several months of challenging and difficult times in some ways, extremely welcome. Long may it continue! At times, there are not enough words in the English language to do justice to certain things, at least not for me, but on the opposite end of that spectrum, sometimes there are too many words, hurtful, abusive, derogatory words that serve only to cause harm, and with first hand experience of how that feels, I am determined to ensure I do not do the same to others, and that I raise my children to be considerate of what they say.

This year, amongst a range of things I intend to achieve, I will ensure that the words I use are chosen with care, and that wherever possible I maintain a positive outlook, encouraging those around me to do the same. Perhaps as a simple challenge to you, look to give a genuine compliment or encouragement once a day as a starter. When you’re speaking to colleagues, your children, your partner, consider how the words you use may make them feel. Above all else consider how the words you choose to use when talking to yourself (and yes we all do it) make you feel. Self criticism is easy, too easy, try being nice to yourself for a change!

Oh, and to those who have given me the gift of positive and empowering words this week, thank you. You are all, individually, great people, and I am glad to have met you, worked with you, talked with you, long may it continue.

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