01/23/2012 04:59 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2012

Can Your Words Influence Your Future?

In the heyday of the textile converting business in New York, before its relocation to the far east, a firm's sales manager worked closely with the stylist, coordinating products according to the requirements of its customers. My sales manager was a guy named Sy, known for his hard driven Type A work (and play) habits.

One Tuesday afternoon I needed to consult with Sy on a matter important to both us and our client. No way was this going to happen. Sy ALWAYS played tennis on Tuesdays after work, or should I say overwork. As I chased him toward the elevator pleading for five minutes, he turned to me as the doors closed and said, "Irene, I hope I never have another day like this one!". Sy dropped dead on the tennis court that evening! He was 43.

One of Sy's favorite descriptive phrases was "pain in the ass" -- it was not surprising when he was rushed to the hospital one night in Memphis for an emergency hemorrhoid operation!

Is it possible that unconsidered everyday speech contains self-fulfilling prophesies?

When agreeing to a request, I had always replied "My pleasure." Then I began to use "No problem," until I realized that I was voicing two negative words, asking for trouble. The subconscious mind is very literal, taking all thought and word input at face value. "Oh, so you want more problems?... OK!" I'm back to "My pleasure."

This sort of phenomenon is very popular with folks who make up jokes:

A man and his wife, in their 60s, were celebrating their wedding anniversary. On their special day a good fairy came to them and said that because they had been such a devoted couple she would grant each of them a very special wish.

The wife wished for a trip around the world with her husband. Whoosh! Immediately she had airline/cruise tickets in her hands. The man wished for a female companion 30 years his junior. Whoosh! Immediately he turned 90!

When two opponents differ (read: argue) and the verbal exchange escalates, the best possible outcome is an angry stalemate -- a cold war in which no one wins and both lose. Unless one party decides to hold fire (or his tongue), allowing the other to vent and run out of steam. The pressure is then off; resolution is possible.

This conscious cessation of assault by one individual forces the other to listen to his own words without interruption -- eventually there is nothing left to say.

Never underestimate the power of silence! Frequently people just want to be heard. I once took a course in negotiation, the summary of which was: Find out what people really want, then give it to them.

Listen to yourself. Would you rather be right or happy?

For more by Irene Tanner, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.