words matter

Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones but Words Matter Too

You probably know the old adage: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I remember reciting it in grade school, usually in a lame attempt to deflect painful teasing, like being called ‘buck-toothed’ before braces rescued me. And while it was comforting to have a snappy retort, we all know it really couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words matter too.

Allison’s Story

A dear friend of mine, whom I’ve known since the days I was using the above adage, has worked as a nurse for decades with varying levels of job satisfaction. The ups and downs are not surprising, as the nursing profession has uniquely stressful conditions. But it had been years since she had enjoyed going to work. In fact, she had even tried to leave nursing to pursue other types of work in healthcare.

So, recently over a catch-up breakfast, I was thrilled to hear she had gone back to nursing and was truly enjoying it. Allison explained that she knew she had to keep working for at least another 10-15 years, so she wanted to give nursing another chance. Her mindset had shifted from viewing nursing as a “have to” to a “get to”–an opportunity to have a rewarding profession once again.

Words Matter

“Do you think you just willed yourself to like work again?” I asked Allison. She explained that, yes, her own outlook certainly made an impact on her happiness at work. But the major difference? She feels appreciated. “In my past jobs, I didn’t feel valued. I had even been told by management that I was replaceable,” Allison said.

Now, her contribution is regularly acknowledged by her supervisor, who is diligent about communicating with her about the good work she is doing. And she recently won an award for excellence in patient care. Why? Because the patient took the time to express his appreciation for the care Allison provided. Words are making a big difference in Allison’s daily life.

The Power of Kind Words

This is not rocket science. We all know that the words we choose to use at work, with our friends and family, or even just out and about with people we encounter in our daily lives are impactful–especially when they are hurtful.

But how often are we considering the positive things we say to others? I think we underestimate the power of kind words–how much our words matter. As you can see from Allison’s story, encouraging words have made the difference between dreading going to work and enjoying it. Here are some other ways positive words can impact others:

1. The Importance of Being Seen

Let’s go back to the very basics. Before we consider the words we are using, are we ‘seeing’ the people in our lives? Everyone deserves to feel a sense of acknowledgement, acceptance, and belonging. We can use our words to encourage that feeling through recognition and expressing our appreciation.

2. The Impact of Building Positivity into Relationships

It’s common knowledge that we are more likely to remember negative comments than positive ones. When I think back to school or past jobs, it’s difficult for me to conjure up a memory of receiving praise for work well done, even though I know it happened many times. But, wow, I can certainly tell you every detail of any negative or harsh words received. They are forever burned in my memory.

In this article, I wrote about the ‘positivity ratio’ and how it has been an important concept to remember in my relationships, especially with my children. Ensuring my “shoulds” and micro-criticisms are far outweighed by encouraging words has turned out to be one of the most important aspects of a harmonious relationship.

3. Kind Words Matter for You Too

It’s easy to imagine how kind words make a positive impact in others’ lives. But don’t underestimate the benefits for yourself. In my article, Complimenting Others is Good for You Too, I discuss how shifting your focus from yourself to others and taking the time to verbalize the compliments you’re thinking have intrinsic value for both the person receiving the compliment and the one giving it.

4. The Ripple Effect of Kindness

Ok, we know that communicating kind words to others is good for us: the giver and the receiver. Here’s the icing on the cake. The people around us who witness this act of kindness benefit too. It’s the ripple effect: if a person sees an act of kindness, they are more likely to model that behavior in the future. So, go ahead, If You See Something, Say Something Kind.

Spread that Gossip

When we think of words and their potential toxicity, gossip is one of the first things that come to mind. Just hearing the word may make you shudder from painful memories. But gossip doesn’t have to be negative.

Gossip is what no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys.

-Joseph Conrad

 According to sociology and psychology definitions, gossip is:

“Evaluative talk about a person who is not present” and “The process of informally communicating value-laden information about members of a social setting.”

According to these definitions, gossip can be an entire range: from salaciously evil to vastly complimentary. So, why not have some fun with gossip in a constructive way?

Next time you’re waiting with the other parents at school pick-up or in line at your work lunchroom, try some positive gossip. Be the one to rave about your friend’s child and how well they performed at the swim meet. Or spread the word that your fellow colleague bravely handled that difficult client. Everyone loves new information and interesting stories about the people they know. And they don’t have to be negative or hurtful.

The Power of Words

We can have a major impact on others’ lives with little effort. Let’s try using our words and kindness to make that difference.

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."
-Mother Teresa

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