The Power of Our Words

Did you know that our words are one of the most powerful forces we possess? Words have the ability to build people up, give them pleasure, or destroy them. Sometimes we say words not realizing the impact they may have on others. If you look at the words below, you will understand:
                                                       You’re so smart.                  You’re a dim-wit.
                                                        You can do anything.         You can’t do anything.
                                                        You’re talented.                  You’re hopeless.
                                                        I love you.                            I don’t love you anymore.

You can easily feel the strength and power of the words on the left and feel the hurt and sting of those opposite—especially if you’ve heard them before.

Yet interestingly, it is the unspoken words that have the most underestimated power. Recently, I was visiting someone in the hospital. As I came around the corner, I heard the patient in the bed speaking to the nurse who was tending to his needs. He was talking about his daughter and how proud he was of her. He was telling the nurse that she had recently received her diploma for her PhD after seven years of hard work. She was the only person he knew who had travelled to the North Pole to work. She had also recently written a book, although he didn’t understand it; it was on his shelf at home. He added that she was the president of her own company and was extremely busy. He wanted to tell her and anyone else in the hospital how proud he was of his daughter.

As I came around the corner to visit my dad, I realized he was talking about me to the nurse. He looked up a bit confused and said, “there she is, my daughter.” I had tears in my eyes because, for all the years that I was growing up, my dad rarely told me he was proud of my accomplishments and hard work. Yet this day, while he was in his later years and in the hospital, I am hearing his words now. He has come home from the hospital and is now telling all his caregivers the same story. My mother told me he had repeated himself several times over the last few days. I was thinking of hiring him as my promotional agent.

As a note, I was not at the North Pole but in Resolute Bay, which when I showed him on the map, he said “the North Pole?” and the story has stayed that way.

This story took some meaning when I realized that we often do not say the things we want to those we love and admire. Often I hear the regret of people whose loved ones have passed on or left, and they wished they had told them that: they cared about them, loved them, were proud of them, missed them or were sorry.

Yet often, the words we do use are hurtful and wrong.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of our words as positive feedback. We are often quick to point out to someone when they have made a mistake. Sometimes we forget to acknowledge them when they do something right. Giving positive feedback can be a powerful tool for employee motivation, relationship building and team dynamics.

F. John Reh, Management Guide, as some tips on how to use it most effectively.

  • Do it now. Positive feedback is too valuable to let slide. Say something right away.
  • Make it public. While negative feedback should be given privately, positive feedback should be given publicly. Do it in front of as large a group as appropriate.
  • Be specific. Don’t just say, “Good job.” Instead, say something like, “That new procedure you developed for routing service calls has really improved our customer satisfaction. Thanks for coming up with it.”
  • Make a big deal out of it. You don’t want to assemble the entire company every time you give positive feedback, but do as much ceremony as the action warrants.
  • Consider the receiver. It is essential to consider the feeling of the person receiving the recognition. For a shy person, thanking them in front of their workgroup is probably most appropriate. For another person, you might hang a banner, balloons, and streamers in the department area.
  • Do it often. Don’t wait for the big successes. Celebrate the small ones too.
  • Do it evenly. Big successes need prominent recognition; small victories need smaller attention. If you throw a party for every little success, you diminish its effect on a big success.
  • Be sincere. Don’t praise someone for coming in on time. Don’t congratulate someone on just doing their job. People will see right through you. Really mean it when you give positive feedback.

We each have the responsibility to the people we care about, our employees and colleagues. Our words, our confirmation and our verification, may and can change the lives of the people around us. So tell them today, “That was a great job. I am proud of you. That was truly remarkable, and I would like to thank you”.

Remember: The words we use do make a difference.

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