Many years ago I volunteered to travel with my daughters’ high school choir and band to a regional competition. My girls were in choir, and not in band. So when the time came for the band to leave the classroom where we were waiting our turn, I volunteered to stay behind and keep an eye on our stuff (we had been warned not to leave valuables unattended).
What I said to the other parents was, “I’ll stay, I don’t care about the band.”
Of course what I meant, what I was saying in my head, was, “My children are not performing, your children are, of course you want to hear them. I will want to hear my children in the choir when their turn comes. In the meantime, I’ll stay behind so none of you have to miss your child’s performance.”
I think most of the parents knew my children, knew they did not play in the band, and understood what I really meant, more or less. But not one parent.
When they all returned, she lost no time in dressing me down, loudly, over what I had said. Because what I meant was so clear to me, I was mystified, until I finally got a chance to speak, and asked her to tell me what I had said.
There was no explanation I could give this woman that would ever change her mind about my intentions behind my words. She heard what she heard and that was that.
It was a lesson to me in choosing my words to frame the conversation so that others hear what they need to hear in order to understand me correctly.
While less than 10 percent of our communication comes through our words (the rest comes through body language and tone of voice), our words still play an important part.
We can change our outlook, or others’ reactions, just by changing the words we use.
Consider these word pairs and how the word on the left makes you feel compared to the word on the right.
Impact or Affect
Failed or Learned
React or Respond
Have to or Get to
Anxious or Eager
Open or Defensive
Expectant or Frustrated
Evaluate or Suspect
But or And
When I choose my words with my listener in mind, I’m more likely to get what I want. When I take time to think about the message I want to send before I speak, I get a much better response. Yes, it also helps to fully state what I mean, as I clearly did not do that day at the music competition. Perhaps that’s why we are sometimes reminded to engage the brain before opening the mouth.
Choosing the right words goes beyond saying what I mean to say. When I remember to use empathy and emotional intelligence, I align myself with the other person so that we are speaking from the same side – we both want the same thing even though we may have opposite viewpoints of how to get there.
When I remember to use words that connect us, I honor and inspire the other person. When I use words that reconcile us, I build up and motivate. When I use the right words, I engage with others, I learn and grow and I strengthen our relationship.
Life Is Honest, Open and True: I care about how my words are received and understood by others, so I choose my words to be clear in what I mean and in what I feel.
Do you have a story to tell about a time you chose the wrong word and it created a problem in a relationship? Tell me about it in the comments or tweet me @lifeishotblog with the hash tag #LifeIsHOT!
Related Posts: Say What You Mean