Last week I was in the wild woods of Canada on vacation with my family. No WiFi and limited cell phone service (except for this one spot on the edge of the woods where if I stood just right I could get a few bars). There is nothing like being basically off the grid, using solar power, to help you unplug and decompress. If nothing else, it gives you a lot of time to think!
I thought about family. I thought about my business. I thought about systems and controls. I thought about integrity. And, because we we weren’t distracted by TVs, email, or iPad games, we did a lot of face-to-face communication. So, I thought a lot about the power of words.
If you’ve ever read Fierce Conversations, you know that two of the core concepts are that the conversation is the relationship and that you must take responsibility for the emotional wake you leave.
Simply put, words hold a tremendous amount of power. Are you wielding that power responsibly?
Words leave a ripple effect on the person you are communicating with, just like the wake of a speed boat. Every comment, every email, the tone of your voice, etc. leaves an emotional wake – and it can change a person’s life, positively or negatively.
You get to decide what effect you want to leave on others. It’s your choice. You can either be careful or careless with your words and either one can spiral. Let me give you two examples:
- You walk into a gas station and someone opens the door for you, you walk right through and don’t even say thank you. You’re short with the cashier as you purchase your coffee and fail to make eye contact as you’re scanning your phone. That cashier, impacted by your rudeness, is short with the next customer in line. That customer walks out the door and doesn’t hold the door open for the couple behind him. As the door slams in that couple’s face, the man mutters something derogatory under his breath and then gets into a fight with his wife because she doesn’t like it when he talks like that… You see where I’m going here. One comment, one rude interaction on your part, sets off a whole chain reaction.
- You walk into a gas station and someone opens the door for you, you thank them and smile as you walk up to the cashier to pay for your coffee and gas. You ask how they are doing and thank them before walking out. The cashier, uplifted by your kindness and the fact that you actually made eye contact and connected with them, is pleasant to the next customer in line. That customer walks out and holds the door for the couple behind him who thank him and reach for each others’ hands as they walk towards their car… Again, one comment, one positive interaction on your part, sets of a whole chain reaction.
It can go either way. It’s your choice. You can’t control other people’s reactions or actions. But you can control your own and be committing to making a positive impact with your words. In one moment you can changes someone’s attitude. In one moment you can change someone’s life. Will you choose to be kind or to tear someone down?
As you grow in a leadership role, your emotional wake continues to increase. Your words will carry more weight. Every word needs to be thought about before you speak or press send on an email. In times of stress or challenges, this becomes especially critical. As a leader, you cannot allow yourself to blow up – not in public, not in private. Hurtful words, half-truths, bulldozing, evasive maneuvers, etc. will be with people forever. It’s not always the word itself, but the meaning that the individual you are speaking to associates with that word. If you aren’t speaking the same language (i.e. different meaning for different words) and you aren’t conscious of the impact your words have on others, you can do some major damage to your kids, your friends, your family, your team, and your business partners. But if you are conscious of the power of words, you can do some serious good!
What type of emotional wake do you leave every day? Be honest with yourself. I’m sure you can do better. We all can. The first step is awareness. So know this, every word you speak can change someone’s life – just make sure it’s in a positive direction.