Top Ten Interpersonal Skills -6- Choose Your Words Carefully
I’m blogging about the Top Ten Interpersonal Communication Skills for building better relationships at work and at home. This post is number 6 in the series.
About five years ago, I got an indicator of just how long 25 years is in Naturopathic years. I attended an American Association of Naturopathic Physicians convention and one of the students from my alma mater approached me to thank me for my work, and then told me what an honor it was to meet and shake hands with ‘an elder.’ He was not trying to be amusing. I was not amused. Ok, maybe I was, but only because it so completely violated my self concept while accurately describing my place in the scheme of things. I’m a fan of irony. He then asked me about the keys to my success with communication.
Maybe he didn’t choose that word, ‘elder’ as carefully as might have. Maybe he didn’t take into account how that word ‘elder’ would impact my nervous system. And maybe the word he chose was the most powerful honorific he could think of for me in that moment of time. When I think back on my reaction at the time, it was more horrific than honorific, but now, I truly feel honored by it. And that’s the funny thing about words. Today’s lesson?
Choose Your Words Carefully
Though this post is part of a top ten list of interpersonal skills, I don’t actually think that there is some specific and certain road map to success in communication. Because really, your success in your relationships is more a matter of conscience, chance, connections, circumstance, commitment, confidence, character, and a host of other such words, all of which apparently begin with ‘C’.” And I’m not making fun of these words.
The fact is, I value words. A lot. I’ve discovered that they’re very important. So I want to choose them wisely. Because words are almost certainly a key to success in anything.
When I was a naturopathic student, my medical mentor at the time told me that there are two things that distinguish the exceptional doctor from the acceptable doctor. He said that the exceptional doctor knows how to listen and how to talk. Why? “ Because most patients would get better if their doctors would just listen to them, and most doctors make their patients sick by the way they talk to them.”
Words well chosen help people turn knowledge into action. They give you access to the mind – body connection, have therapeutic meaning, impact and influence.
I remember the first words I heard in naturopathic school. The class was called Naturopathy 101. The instructor began by offering us a natural cure that parents can use if their children get body lice at public school. He said “…douse the child in pure grain alcohol, then roll them around in a sandbox. The theory is that the lice will all get drunk, and throw rocks at each other until they all fall off.”
Some people started pulling out their car keys, wondering “What have I got myself into?” Some of us laughed out loud. But I’m guessing almost all of us remember what he taught us after that, because he had used his words to get our complete attention.
I’ve learned a lot about words since then. I’ve learned to be careful with them. I’ve learned that words that spring from a narrowed mind can polarize a situation, words that carry too much certainty and importance can build a wall. And words spoken without thought can complicate your true meaning.
I’ve learned that words that are too serious are often bad for one’s health…as in ‘dead serious.’ And I’ve also learned that while choosing words carefully is important, too much attention to detail can cause you to lose sight of what you’re after and why it matters to you.
I’ve learned that indeed words have the power to heal, to motivate and to inspire right action. Words stir memory. They capture pieces of experience. Elder. Old. Ancient. Not exactly what I wanted to hear then. Now that I’m just about completely silver haired and rounding the bend on 60, elder isn’t such a bad word at all.
Bottom line: Choose your words carefully when you seek a specific result. And if not, well, throw something out there and find out what happens! That’s exactly what I want you to do with me. Don’t mince words, or worry about choosing them too carefully here (just mind your manners, because I won’t publish flames or blatant disrespect. As my Mom would say, “Mark my words!”
Other than that, any words from you (as comments or feedback about this post, this series, or my blog in general) are better than no words at all.