Words matter. Our tongue has the power to build or to destroy. One of our strongest assets is the ability to communicate through many means but particularly through speaking. The words we choose, the tone and inflection can fill a person’s soul for flight, or bore holes in their heart. We’ve all done it. We’ve all had it done to us. How do we consistently think before we speak?
Become an astute observer.
When you enter a room, do you bring energy to it or do you suck it dry? Watch people. Listen to their tone when they address each other. Observe the words they choose. Then turn that observation on yourself. Watch people’s reactions. Do your words inspire others or make them flinch?
Listen more than talk.
Some people process aloud, so don’t offer solutions too quickly. Let them walk through their feelings and emotions so they can untangle their thoughts. Placing yourself in the other person’s shoes may give you a better viewpoint to their perspective. Listen with an open mind. Focus on what the person is saying and hold your opinions. Once you have the entire story, only then can you offer help.
Don’t be quick to judge.
Every person has a story, take time to find out what it is. Try to see past the mask, the guarding and the limited information. Your job is to equip, empower and accept where they are and let them tell their story. Try not to be quick to come up with advice or a solution. Sometimes all they need is a sounding board or a sympathetic ear.
Choose your words carefully.
Eliminate from your vocabulary all the words that draw negative energy into your life and others. Replace these life draining words with positive energy raising conversations. Capture negative self-talk, change the way you talk to yourself. Quote verses, speeches, positive affirmation quotes; anything to stop the degrading internal conversations.
Understand your next words.
Listen attentively. Remember what a person says. Don’t interrupt. Don’t pretend the problem isn’t a problem. Stay away from phrases like: It’ll be okay (it might not be), Get over it (it’s dismissive), It’s not the end of the world (maybe for you but it feels like it). Don’t discuss your problems as if they’re similar to theirs. Avoid minimizing their situation. Don’t change the subject, let them talk. Then measure your next words as carefully. Try to discern how your words will be heard or felt if you were the receiver. Then remember that not everyone responds the way you do. I personally like to have it straight from the hip, no sugar coating involved, but not everyone is comfortable with hearing all of the truth at once.
Give good feedback.
When someone has shared something difficult, be sure to summarize before you jump in with advice. Try saying, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I hear you saying…..summarize what they told you.” Then remember if they’re sharing something stupid they did or admitting they were wrong, you don’t need to tell them or remind them, they already know. Words like, “I told you so, or what were you thinking” does nothing to move the conversation forward.
Ask for permission.
After a person has bared their soul to you and you’ve successfully held your tongue, ask for permission to give them a solution or advice by saying, “I have some ideas, do you want to know what I think?” If they say no, then leave it alone for another day, but if they say yes, stay on your single focused ‘take-away’ point. It will be tempting to give them all your thoughts but that can be like getting a drink of water out of a fire hose for the receiver. Give them one idea and then leave it alone.
Give them credit.
Remember, to have advice fall on fertile soil, you need to have a receptive listener. One way to help them hear your words of counsel is to use the sandwich method. Sandwich the hard info between praises. For example: I know your heart and know you don’t mean any harm, but maybe you need to have boundaries with them, you’re such a loyal friend they’ll understand. The real point of your comment is “you need boundaries” but it’s sandwiched with positive statements that keeps your listener attentive. Then finish your talk with, “You’re so wise in these situations, what are you going to do?” Respect them enough to not solve the problem for them, rather encourage them to think through a plan and then execute it.
Watch your silent messages.
Be aware of the message your body language can broadcast. Turn toward the speaker, make eye contact, and don’t be doing something else while they’re talking. Listen attentively and occasionally respond with a supporting word or two.
There are two old sayings my Dad used to tell me: “It’s better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Choose your words wisely. And the second one was, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” This is true of communication too. All of us are only one phone call away from possible disaster; what will be the last words spoken between you and family, co-workers, friends, and strangers? Will they inspire?
This article was first published in The Modern Woman’s Life Magazine and is republished here with the author’s permission.
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