Do the words we use REALLY matter? – speaking, responsibility and obligation

responsibility spider manDoes it really matter what we say? Isn’t it all a game of style and substance and the interplay between the two? Surely actions speak much more loudly than words?

These are questions I think about especially when I am working with clients who are working out what their ‘message’ is. Especially when I hear politicians speaking on policies and plans and using statistics willy-nilly to make whatever point is expedient at the time. Especially when so much time seems to be spent on listening to words in organisations with sometimes little concrete results as a result.

But here is my take on this.

For sure, we can all think of examples where a lot of hot air has been expended needlessly, where a polished, manipulative and empty speech has left us disappointed or even angry, where high falutin’ phrases and promises have been made and used but nothing has ever changed.

And at the same time, the power of the words we use can change people’s thoughts, change their perspectives, change their lives. The power of speaking to people’s hearts and connecting with them with empathy cannot be over estimated. Great speeches have helped people, even countries and nations overcome adversity. Great speeches have turned organisations away from the brink of disaster. Great speeches have motivated and energised companies, teams, and individuals. Great speeches have changed lives.

I read recently about a story told by a mother to her child starting high school. She squeezed a tube of toothpaste out on a plate and then asked the child to put the paste back in the tube. Puzzled, the child said that that was impossible. And in reply the mother explained that the paste is like words. Once they are out there they cannot be returned. Words have the power to build up or to knock down. Choose our words careful, be mindful of the impact they have on others.

With that in mind, and with the knowledge that our words can have a far greater impact than we always realise, it is incumbent on us, I believe, to use those words wisely and responsibly. And that those words, when they connect and resonate, are meaningful to the listener.

We don’t always know what effect those words will have. We might see some immediate responses in our presentation. . We might get feedback in the form of words, writing or actions some time later. But occasionally that impact might be years or decades after we first utter them. What you say may lie dormant for a long time before it affects your listener. I am not the only person who can say, ‘Do you know, I remember **** saying to me  YEARS AGO and it is only NOW I understand’

Taking care, being thoughtful, taking responsibility for our words always can be a pleasure, a gift and a necessary obligation for a speaker who wants to make a difference.

Would love to know your thoughts on this one

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One Response to Do the words we use REALLY matter? – speaking, responsibility and obligation

  1. Lucy Jackman January 12, 2017 at 4:28 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more Catherine. Words can so often by misinterpreted by your audience. It’s so important to consider who you’re speaking to when crafting your messages. This advice also extends to any slides you produce. Remember never to write in capitals or your audience could think you’re shouting at them!

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