Say What You Mean, Mean What You...What'd You Say?
You know how sometimes you use an expression without thinking about its meaning? I did just that recently, and it came back to haunt me.
I'd written a fun and upbeat article about "Happy Holiday Sex." It included sexy tips and a sentence about how dealing with sugar-crazed kids or dysfunctional family members "does not necessarily put you in the mood...unless that mood involves killing someone."
I'd written that article many weeks ago. The article was published just days after the Newtown tragedy.
Upon re-reading it, I honestly hadn't remembered writing that line. It was a throwaway line, an attempt at light-hearted humor. But my heart grew heavy as I read it. I quickly contacted the publisher, who just as quickly deleted the line.
That's when I started to assess my use of language -- specifically those expressions I'd come to use everyday without even thinking about them. I heard myself saying things like, "I'd die if I ever wore something like that!" or "That joke kills me!" Even using the word "deadline" started to bother me.
Meanwhile, I'd spent years as a management consultant, coaching executives on the importance of finding just the right words or expressions to use in their keynote speeches or business pitches. I'd emphasized the weight that a single word holds. Words have power, and the power of one word can mean the difference between a positive or negative audience reaction. It can also mean the difference between the making or breaking of a business deal, or even a relationship.
Five Tips on How To Say the Right Thing All (or at least most) of the Time
Observe yourself. Your words define who you are and how you are seen in the world. What expressions do you use on a daily basis? Are you using "loaded" words or expressions that really don't represent who you are? My teenage son Jake pointed out that I constantly used the expression, "It is what it is." He said, "Mom, it doesn't sound like you. It sounds kind of negative." I realized that he was right, and I'm making a conscious effort to stop saying it. Remember, people judge you by the words you use. Be mindful of what you're saying.
Think First. Speak Second.
Words can help. And words can hurt. Even though spoken words seem to disappear into the air, they can have a way of landing inside someone's heart and remaining there for a very long time. When you're feeling a positive emotional charge, it might be okay to shout out, "I love you!" but when you're feeling a negative emotional charge (i.e. in the heat of the moment during a fight with a loved one), it might not be okay to shout out, "I hate you!" The best advice a marriage counselor ever gave my husband and me was to "Think before you speak," especially during a highly emotionally charged situation.
Let Your Body Talk -- or Shout!
Your body speaks louder than your words when you're communicating in person. Oh sure, you can use words to tell someone that you care, but if your arms are crossed in front of your chest and your eyes are trying to peer over his shoulder to see what's on TV, then your words are the equivalent of what you'd scoop up in the dog park. This happens quite often in the business world. Everyone is multi-tasking to the point where when an employee tries to share an idea and others are tweeting and texting and adding empty "Uh huh's," that idea is never received, and the employee feels like the equivalent of that dog park pick-up. So, make sure that you use open body language (arms uncrossed and eye contact) to express your ideas or show that you're openly listening.
Talk to Yourself
Be aware of the words you use when you're talking to yourself. Psychologists have done studies on the effect of self-talk and its powerful effect on the unconscious. If you're constantly saying to yourself, "I'm so stupid" or "I can't believe I just said such a dumb thing," then you probably will continue to say and do dumb things. It's self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, if you constantly say to yourself, "I'm so smart" and "I just came up with a brilliant idea!" then you will probably continue to do and say smart and brilliant things. Studies also show that even if you don't actually believe that you're all that smart, by constantly telling yourself that you are, you will be!
Say "EEEE." Notice what happens to your mouth. It actually pulls up the corners of your mouth so that you're smiling. A New York Times article entitled "A Language of Smiles" by Olivia Judson () states that "The mere act of smiling is often enough to lift your mood...(and) influence your emotional state." Think of the words that causes you to smile; they use the "EEEE" sound -- "happy," "glee," "sunny," "silly," me." If you can incorporate "EEEE" words that connote positive feelings and use those words, you will enhance both your own mood and the mood of your listener.
Just remember, what you say matters -- whether it's to yourself or others. Communicating with the right words can mean a world of difference about how you feel about yourself, and the way you are perceived by others. What if you make a mistake and say the wrong thing?There's always the option to use those powerful, magic words, "I'm sorry." And if you write the wrong thing? Well, as I learned, there's always the option of speaking up and using that magic "delete" key.