Words Are Much More Destructive Than Sticks Or Stones

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
Mark Twain

When I was growing up, I was taught a little slogan that was supposed to stop some of the bullying on the playground. I was taught to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

As an adult, I realize how ridiculous that slogan is. The truth is … words are among the most powerful forces on earth. Words can and do hurt. A few mis-spoken words by a corporate executive could turn off an entire company. A few mis-spoken words by a husband or wife could destroy a marriage. And a few mis-spoken words by a politician could start a war.

The GOOD news is … words can also be the source of great good. Words can motivate employees, build up relationships, and even make us think, wonder, and laugh.

For example, I listened to the artful way one comedian put his words together. Among other lines in his routine, he asked the audience, “How do you tell when you run out of invisible ink?” and “We know the speed of light. So what’s the speed of dark?”

He defined a few terms for us, such as “laughing stock,” which is nothing more than cattle with a sense of humor. But he admitted his life wasn’t perfect, “He said, ‘I tried sniffing Coke once, but the ice cubes got stuck in my nose.'”

The GREAT news is … there are three little words you can use to start new relationships, deepen old ones, and even restore those that have cooled off over time. And it doesn’t matter if you use these three little words on your coworkers, your customers, your spouse, kids, or friends; they will enrich every one of those relationships.

Perhaps the BEST news is … there are ten of these little three-word phrases you can use. You can choose the three-word phrase that best suits your situation. Some of them I learned from Perry Walker and Dr. Sidney Simon, and some of them I developed over the years. Here are five of them for this week’s edition of the “Tuesday Tip.”

1. I’ll be there.

When you indicate by your words and your actions that “I’ll be there” for you, you’re giving one of the greatest gifts you can give someone else. You’re giving him/her the gift of support, encouragement, and peace of mind. And these words work just as well in your personal life as your professional life.

If you’ve ever had to call a friend in the middle of the night … because your sick child had to get to a hospital or your car had broken down miles from home … you know how good it feels to hear the phrase “I’ll be there.” Your friendship is reinforced, and you are restored emotionally and spiritually.

The same principle applies to your company or our country. People are looking for leaders who say … by their words … “I’ll be there” … and then by their actions show … they are indeed there for them. As Jason Damkoehler, one of my clients at one of the world’s largest insurance organizations says: “The world is looking for men and women of greatness to lead them. Companies are looking for men and women of greatness to lead them. Families are looking for men and women of greatness to lead them. Someone somewhere is counting on YOU to become a person of greatness!” Someone somewhere is counting on you to be there for them.

As Damkoehler goes on to say, many people think that a life of greatness is something that is reserved for a few select people. “After all, only one person can be president. Only a few people are kings or queens. Even in the corporate world, only a few people can make their way into higher levels of formal leadership, while most will serve careers in the first-line manager, analyst and support level roles.”

So what. That’s not what counts. Damkoehler finishes by saying, “You may never be president, but you can be presidential. You will never be a king or queen, but you can be regal. You may never be a CEO, but you can be one who yields great influence. You may never be the most popular or a recognizable face, but you can be a person who changes the face of the world around you.”

All true … if you’re a person who says, “I’ll be there” and then indeed is there for other people.

2. I miss you.

Perhaps more marriages could be saved and strengthened if couples simply and sincerely said to each other “I miss you.” This powerful affirmation tells partners they are wanted, needed, desired and loved. Consider how ecstatic you would feel, if you received an unexpected phone call from your spouse in the middle of the workday, just to say “I miss you.”

Of course, at first glance, this may sound like a phrase that is strictly personal in nature. It couldn’t be used in a work setting. But don’t be too hasty to judge.

After all, it doesn’t feel very good if you come back to work, after being gone for two weeks, and no one bothers to ask about your vacation or what you did. It doesn’t feel very good if no one says they missed you. And it’s even worse if one of your colleagues says, “Oh, you were gone?”

3. I respect you.

It’s the number one thing employees want to get from a job … once they get past the pay, security and benefits. They want to hear and need to feel that they are respected. The same thing goes for those close to you … if you remember the “circle of trust” in the “Meet the Parents” movie.

It was one of the secrets of John Wooden’s success as one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. Coming from his humble beginnings as a farm boy in Hall, Indiana, he understood the power of respect. The enormous respect he expressed for his players motivated them to win more games than just about any other team in history.

To make “respect” a reality, Wooden often told his players, “Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.”

4. I’m open to…

“I’m open to hearing your side.” This is a great phrase for diffusing an argument and restoring frayed emotions. Instead of coming across as rigid and closed minded, which almost always makes the other person more rigid and closed minded as well, you come across as reasonable and flexible.

In a sense, when you say “I’m open to…” to your point of view, you’re exhibiting your humility. You’re admitting the possibility of being wrong. And if you’re open to his/her position, you dramatically increase the chances that they’ll be more open to your way of thinking or your way of doing things.

5. Please forgive me.

Face it. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody makes a mess of things once in a while. And every one of us has a few faults and shortcomings.

And yet, many people find it very difficult to admit their mistakes and take responsibility for the damage they’ve caused. They see it as a sign of weakness … when in reality … it is a sign of strength. When you say “please forgive me,” you own up to the fact you were in the wrong, and in the process of owning up, you’re also saying “I’m wiser today than I was yesterday.”

So don’t be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to use this phrase … as this little phrase has the power to restore broken relationships. As my friend Rob Peck says, “Forgiveness is the best form of emotional math. It adds compassion, subtracts resentment, and multiplies resilience.”

Don’t let anybody fool you. Words DO matter. Choose yours carefully. And you can’t go wrong by using these three-word phrases. Next week I’ll give you the five other magical three-word phrases.

Action:  Sincerely use each of these phrases at least once this week. Make every day your payoff day!