Are Words a Window to the Soul? My Journey as a Dad, at Work and in Life

05/12/2015 04:56 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2016

First the Inspiration

A few nights ago, I was nostalgic for some music from my younger years. On YouTube, I clicked a button and let the music fill the room. It brought back memories. I was at my grandparents home in a village on the banks of the river Cauvery, in the deep south of India. My grandparents had this gigantic swing, right inside the house. It was one of my favorite spots, with a gripping rope hanging from a sturdy beam. Pulling the rope, gave me propulsion like no other. I was having a ride of my life. In the background, my uncle was excited; he had purchased a new music cassette. He unwrapped it and loaded it in a tape recorder. It was an instrumental piece. The music permeated the room. I remember to this day, I stopped in my tracks, soaked in the music and slowly got back into the rhythm of the ride. Once the cassette rolled, I got up to check the name on the cover. It read, "How to name it?" by Ilaiyaraja.

Great music stirs even the hardest souls, the soothing bliss transcends man made boundaries. How to name it inspired me to think about how to say it. Can there be an elevation of conversations to stratospheric levels, just by the choice of words and how we say it? Here are some snippets from my journey, as a dad, at work and in life.

What I learnt from being a dad?

Children hear about 13 thousand words a day. I read somewhere that children hear 400 no's in a day! Wow, that got my attention. I started to notice the use of "No" with my own children. I chuckled when I heard the No occur in triplets, "No, no,". They quickly add up during the day! Employees hear it as well with a small difference. In the office, it is usually only one at a time.

There is a time and place for a no, a child trying to put a hand in a stove is a classic example. For less time-sensitive endeavors, I always wondered, is there something better than "No, you cannot have ice cream unless you have your dinner," with hands on our hip?

Don't you think it will be great, if children had a greater semblance of independent decision-making? I am sure as adults, we would love it at work. The words, at the beginning of the next sentence, seem to accomplish that. "Don't you think it would be great to have ice cream at your leisurely pace after dinner?" At the minimum, as parents, it positions us to probe better. Lovely words -- don't you think and don't you feel -- moves the onus of control and decision making back to the child.

What I learnt from my sales boss?

I had moved from analytics to sales, few years back. I was enamored by the language abilities of my boss -- the national head of sales. He had a way with words and that fascinated me. I would be in meetings, watching him speak -- sometimes not what he spoke but how he spoke. I found the word "If" resonating a lot. In communication, we all speak through our own prism of experiences. The listener filters it through their own prism. His brilliance was in summarizing others thoughts in his words, lest something got lost in the translation. His words -- "If I hear you correctly" or "If I understand what you are conveying." He was so disciplined about it that I found it remarkable. Never thought "If" would be such a powerful word!

What I learnt from Dale Carnegie?

If dictionary is the treasure trove of words in the language, it is indeed ironic that the most powerful word in the world is not in it -- your name. We all have images of others in our mind, the word that encapsulates our imagery is the name -- the first conscious choice by our parents for us when we enter the world. I had once asked my parents, why are children's names derived from god's name? My mom's answer was a good one, "so that you can say it often and hear it often!"

Dale Carnegie, a man who lived his life in terms of other people, said it best in the classic "How to win friends and influence people?" "Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language"

The unanswered question is, how many times do we use the most meaningful word in normal meaningful conversations?

A Word Test!

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics and pioneering psychologist in his book "Thinking Fast and Slow" shares some research about the power of words. Two groups of college sophomores were given 150 words to make short sentences. The only difference in the list -- one group had five younger words (promotion etc.) while the other had five older words (retirement etc.) The real test -- it took 27 percent longer for the participants with the older words to walk down the hallway after the project. Ouch! The impact of words at subconscious levels is eye opening.

Parting Thoughts

I wanted to share snippets from my journey and stir the thoughts on words -- for many innocuous words, our mind reacts at sublime levels. For a few other words, they are worthy of a pause.

The start of the journey is self-awareness: your name, if and don't you feel are just the tip of the iceberg. Channelized well, words can take humanity to stratospheric levels.

"How to say it?" is a journey forever. Words are a window to the soul. Do you agree? I am interested in your experience with sayings things better.