Our words are powerful— they can build people up or tear them down. I am certainly not the first person to share this thought. However, several years ago, I began to think of the ripple effect of our words, and I started digging deeper. Before we dig into what I learned, take a moment and do this quick exercise:
Think back to when you were growing up and think of something negative someone said about you.
Now think back again and remember something positive someone said about you.
Was it easier for you to remember something negative or something positive?
If you’re anything like me, it was much easier to call to mind negative statements than it was to remember positive ones.
There’s a reason for this; research has shown that it takes 7 positive words or experiences to combat one single negative word or experience. This piece of research changed me, it caused me to decide 2 things:
When people leave spending time with me, I want them to feel encouraged and valued.
I want my words to be honest.
I am an encourager by nature, but this can morph into flattery when I don’t keep my motivations and heart in check. Flattery is when there are strings attached to our words; like asking a favor or skirting the consequences of a mistake. Flattery usually leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and not fully trusting the person. Encouragement is in the business of building people up because they have inherent value.
After being on this journey of evaluating my words for several years, I’ve found an interesting outcome. People now seek me out for feedback and not just the positive feedback. They want to hear my critical evaluation of how they handled a situation, personally, or professionally.
I have one friend I consistently go to for the “hard feedback” the reason being that I trust her words. She has spent years being honest with me on the mountain tops, in the valleys, and on the average Tuesdays. I leave her knowing she spoke honestly but with great love.
I guarantee you I’ve been the source of negative comments in people’s lives or I was known for offering empty flattery. Over the last 10 years, God has rooted this out in me because I’ve asked and He is faithful. He’s surrounded me with people who have taught me to live honestly which has led me to a very humbling position of being trusted to speak truth with grace into people’s lives.
The reality is we can’t go backwards and unsay or unhear the hurtful things in our lives. We can decide to approach the future differently. We can choose to be people of encouragement, who speak the beautiful and hard things to each other in love.
Is there someone in your life that you go to for the honest answers?
Is there a relationship in your life where you want to begin choosing your words differently?