Do you often find yourself saying the wrong thing? Or saying what might be a right thing, but saying it at the wrong time, or with the wrong tone of voice, or in a way that ends up being totally misconstrued? Do you find yourself thinking . . . “Arrghh! Why did I say that?” Or “I didn’t mean it like that!” Or “Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut?” Or “Why didn’t I say something!”
Ah, Words. Words are perhaps the most powerful tool in the world. Words are a great equalizer; this potent gadget of the mind is luckily available to virtually every human being with a functioning brain. So it should come as no surprise that our lives largely revolve around how to wield these slippery, mysterious mechanisms we call words most wisely . . . and most effectively.
Speaking empathetically and compassionately goes beyond the rules of etiquette. Here are three things to do next time you want to communicate something important:
Listen before you speak. Listen to and seek to understand the person on the receiving end of your words: their situation, their wants, their thoughts, and their emotions. Listening to others is a vital component of empathy. Ask yourself, “Am I just waiting to talk, or am I truly listening?” Don’t judge; just listen. People don’t care that you know until they know that you care.
Be humble. Words are a channel for communicating a truth much bigger than yourself. Don’t let your words become hijacked for your personal gain. Keep them as transparent and ego-free as possible. Simply and clearly state the truth with kindness.
- Be compassionate. Imagine yourself in that person’s Toms, or Nike sneakers, or Jimmy Choo pumps, and speak to them the way you’d want to be spoken to. Follow the Golden Rule, “Don’t do unto others what you would not want done unto you.”
“Words: so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them,” said Nathaniel Hawthorne. If we practice silence, humility, and compassion, our words will surely be potent for good. Remember, though, that you can’t control the reactions of others. It’s possible to say the right thing, but still elicit an angry reaction. But your responsibility is to assure that you have done everything in your power to express yourself clearly and compassionately. Words from the heart enter the heart. Even if the other person cannot absorb your words today, you have planted the seed for them to absorb it tomorrow or the next day.