Words can be uplifting, encouraging, validating, kind, and loving. They can also be cruel, degrading, attacking, and hate filled. They can be soothing or incendiary. They can be used to heal and help or they can be used to taunt or destroy. Contrary to the children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” words have the power to deeply hurt us.”
The words we use can heal or harm – the choice is up to us. Too often, when we are upset with someone or when we perceive that we’re being criticized, we react by either counter-attacking the other or by defending ourselves or our point of view. When we do that, though, we haven’t really made a choice – we’re reacting -- and in the process we have just given our power away to the other person because we are reacting to them. Responding, on the other hand, requires that we take those extra seconds to verify what has been said and then to determine how we will respond. It’s about quietly resolving to maintain our dignity and power instead of having a knee-jerk reaction to someone. It requires taking a half-step back and a deep breath as we thoughtfully choose our words . And it’s about taking some time out to regroup and think it through before having a discussion with the other person if needed.
Choosing our words carefully is critical. Using “you” statements, blanket generalizations (i.e., “always” and “never”), and absolute statements (i.e., this is exactly what happened) are a sure way to put someone on the defensive and to shut down constructive communication. At that point, we may be talking at each other, but we are no longer able to really hear one another. Communication that is productive requires that both partners feel heard and understood. It goes without saying that it’s never okay to call names, to threaten someone, to assault someone’s character, or to provide ultimatums. There are much more productive ways to communicate in an empowered and respectful way.
By choosing “I” words and “perspective” words, we are much more likely to be an effective communicator, and the other individual is much more likely to hear us. If someone tells me “you always do that!,” I’m more likely to react since the word “you” comes across as though they are pointing a finger at me and accusing me. And the word “always” automatically negates what has been said since it is an exaggeration term and an impossible concept to measure. But if someone approaches me with: “I don’t think that it was intended, but this is the way that came across to me…or sounded to me…or looked….,” I’m much more likely to be able to hear that and respond since they are sharing their perspective with me and it doesn’t feel accusatory. It gives me an opportunity to say “Wow -- thanks for letting me know. That isn’t what I intended. Let me try that again….Now what did you hear?” We are then able to have a conversation instead of a conflict.
Taking the time to learn and practice these essential communication tools can change a relationship from one of hurt and resentment to one of harmony and trust. All it takes is a willingness to consciously do things differently. If you’re ready for that challenge, contact us. It can change your life for the better.