Using words productively requires awareness and intentionality, but it absolutely helps us maximize our positive impact on the world around us. In this week’s episode, I discuss ways we can use our words productively.
Using words productively contributes to a life that matters
I’ve been a bookworm since I learned to read, and a writer for almost as long. I’ve always loved words–the sounds, the meanings, the way they can express (or create) feelings or take us into another world or way of thinking.
As a lawyer, words are my stock in trade. I use them all day long, speaking and writing, articulating ideas and taking in information.
As a podcaster, words are the tools I use to communicate ideas and make connections.
I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the things we say — to each other and to ourselves, both spoken and written words. Do words matter? Yes. The words we use, whether spoken aloud or only in our thoughts, affect us–our mindset, our perception of the world we live in and the people we meet, our relationships.
In a 2013 TED discussion on NPR, “Does Language Bring Us Together or Pull Us Apart?”, biologist Dr. Mark Pagel speaks of the potency of our words using a memorable phrase, explaining that through language we are able to “implant our ideas” into another’s mind. Language provides the rails on which thoughts ride. The words we use — and how we use them — matter immensely because they shape the way we perceive the world and participate within it.” [from How Much Do Our Words Matter?]
“Words are free. It’s how you use them that may cost you.” ~ KushandWizdom
1. Think before speaking
“Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you may stick with someone else for a lifetime.” ~ Rachel Wolchin.
Watching our words is one of the ways we can maximize our positive impact on others and the world around us–by thinking before we speak. The words we say thoughtlessly may not mean much to us but they can have a huge impact on others.
Before responding to a person or situation, question your assumptions. If we stop and think about our assumptions, it may change the words we choose to use– assumptions about others (their motivations, their capabilities), about yourself (your abilities or motivations), or your circumstances.
Part of the Work that Byron Katie teaches is about taking a thought (which is just words, right?) and running it through some questions:
- Is it true?
- Can I absolutely know it’s true? (Can it be proven in a court of law?)
- How do I react when I believe it?
- Who would I be without that thought?
Pay attention to the tone of your words to others and to yourself.
2. Train your mind
Words are what our minds use to create thoughts. Our thoughts create our emotions, which drive our actions, which produce our results.
Thoughts are words; choose them intentionally. Thinking and saying things as simple as I get to vs. I have to can make a big difference. It’s a subtle change in words and mindset and we can choose which one we want to have.
If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. We can change the way our minds use words by persistent, intentional practice.
Last week’s guest, Scout Sobel (TPW360), talked about changing her life by repeating the opposite of what she’d told herself before (she’d always believed her emotions were unsafe, so that’s how she felt, but when she started saying “I’m safe in my emotions” and meditating on that thought, her feelings began to change). This took practice and persistence but she was able to change her life by changing her thoughts and the words she spoke to herself.
“Words are seeds that do more than blow around. They land in our hearts and not the ground. Be careful what you plant and careful what you say. You might have to eat what you planted one day.” ~ Unknown
3. Express kindness
“No matter what situation we’re facing, we can treat others with kindness and accomplish more. For example, are you more likely to be motivated to work harder, push your limits and help your team achieve the desired results when your team and supervisor are assisting you, smiling and encouraging you? We all desire to be treated as human beings. And just as we want to be praised and appreciated, we need to give the same treatment to our coworkers and employees.” [from Using kindness and empathy to increase productivity]
When we use our words to express kindness, the results will be more productive than the alternative, regardless of who we’re dealing with.
- Family and friends. It’s easy to take those closest to us for granted, maybe assume (if we think of it at all) they know how we feel. Sarcasm and put-downs are common forms of humor in many families and friendships. But if we make a point of speaking kindly to our family and friends, the relationship will be strengthened.
- Strangers. We can also express kindness to strangers. There is a meme that is going around that says “everyone you meet is bearing burdens you know nothing about; so always be kind.”
- Foes. No one has ever been positively influenced by someone standing at a distance and throwing rocks at them. Looking for ways to express kindness (in words AND actions) will change your own perspective toward someone you see as an enemy, and will greatly increase the possibility of influencing them in a positive way.
“Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten.” ~ Unknown
4. Lift up others — the words you say or written words
- Use words of encouragement. People who feel appreciated and encouraged are more confident and more productive.
- Use words of edification. (This is an old-fashioned word defined as “the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually.”) Before you speak, consider whether you are offering something that will help the listeners grow or improve. It’s not about assuming superiority, but simply asking yourself; am I contributing something positive to this person’s life? It’s easy to complain, rant, or gossip but are those productive words? Do they edify?
5. Lift up yourself – everything we said about speaking to others applies to yourself as well
Use your words to describe what you want, not what you don’t want. Put a positive spin on what you want in your own behavior or life. Use words to name your strengths, not your shortcomings. When you talk about areas that you want to improve, use your words to outline specific actions you will take to become the person you want to be.
6. Surround yourself with others who use words well
As much as you can, choose to spend time with people who use words productively and keep them in your immediate circle. Also pay attention to other ways you take in words, such as books, television, and podcasts. Are the words you’re absorbing helping you make a life that matters?
“If we understood the power of our thoughts, we would guard them more closely. If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative. In our thoughts and words, we create our own weaknesses and our own strengths. Our limitations and joys begin in our hearts. We can always replace negative with positive.” -Betty Eadie
What do you think? Questions? Comments
Resources and Links
- Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity
- How language shapes the way we think | Lera Boroditsky
- How Much Do Our Words Matter?
- The Way We Talk to Ourselves Tells Us More than We Realise
- Why It Matters How You Talk to Yourself
- Using kindness and empathy to increase productivity
- How to Encourage Your Team to Get More Productivity Out of Every Day
Help Spread the Word!
Tell a friend about The Productive Woman podcast. Share an episode using the social sharing buttons at the top of this post, and consider leaving a review in Apple Podcasts.
Thank you to our sponsor, LinkedIn
LinkedIn Jobs will help you hire the right person for your role. Did you know every week, nearly 40 million job seekers visit LinkedIn? Post your first job for free at LinkedIn.com/TPW. Terms and conditions apply.
Click here to discover my favorite apps!
I would love to have your help!
Royse City, Texas