How we disagree, and why words matter…

Countless books have been written over the years about communication and what it means to communicate effectively. Interestingly, most of us tend believe we are very good at “communicating”, though we may be trying to convince ourselves of something that isn’t necessarily correct—at least in terms of how others view and hear us.

It’s been said many times but it’s still true: how we say what we say has a significant impact on how others respond to our words. If our tone is off because we are condescending, abrupt or dismissive, even if what we say might otherwise resonate with someone, we’ve often lost them.

But words matter, too. Let’s look at a situation where two individuals are part of a workplace meeting with a number of colleagues.  One makes a statement. The other individual replies, “You’re wrong”.

That simple but emphatic phrase, and the tone that usually goes along with it, tends to have a chilling effect.  The other person is often offended, and will not soon (if ever) forget the offending comment.  To say someone is “wrong” is a statement we can’t take easily take back.  It stings and discredits the other person, throws their views to the side of the curb and does not offer the kind of mutual respect ideas should have between people—whether family members, friends, or workplace colleagues.

The better language option, and much less offensive, would be something along the lines of, “I hear what you’re saying, but I look at this differently…”.  Those words make it clear that you do indeed have a different point of view, but you demonstrate respect for the other person’s position, and are simply offering another way of assessing things. No one is “put down” by your comment, and differing perspectives will continue to be shared in an environment without hostility or condescension.

It’s not being over-sensitive—it is simply being human, to feel hurt by the (sometimes unintended) comments of another person.  The point of sharing this example is that we can all come up with countless examples of words and phrases that turn off, offend, hurt or injure others in some fashion. 

Creating a thoughtful language environment allows relationships to grow and stay healthy. With this in mind, a brainstorming session with colleagues can be a useful exercise. The exercise could be as simple as jotting down all the examples of the phrases or words that the group comes up with that could potentially damage personal or workplace relationships.  Often times, we may not even be aware of the way we speak to others, and that the words and phrases we use so casually may be toxic and actually do harm to relationships. 

What we say and how we say it makes a difference.