Friday, March 8, 2013

The Power of Words

Hello, blogger friends!  The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerted.  I am still alive and kicking.  Lots happening in my world.  I've been in novel-editing hell, working like a fiend on my two jobs, and caring for my two special needs babies.  Despite the busy-ness of life, I'm happy and well. 

I realize now how my 7 month break has actually provided an opportunity for writing fodder.  Lots of juicy insights have come over the last several months, so I hope to find the time to put some of those in writing here.  What I really want to sort through today is this idea I've been tossing around about our words.  It seems cliche to talk about the power of our words, and yet this truth is so simple and... well, powerful.  I am a woman of many words.  I talk alot.  I talk so much that sometimes I can't remember what I said or who to whom I said it.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does present a potential pit, particularly when you want every word you speak to carry its own responsible weight. 

I'm learning that our words fall into two main camps-- labeling v. judging.  The labeling camp of words are used to describe, observe, and give shape to.  The judging camp of words are meant to attach a value-laden meaning to an observation or description.  For example, if my husband hasn't put away the laundry, the judging camp of words might say, "You never help me around here!  You are so lazy."  The labeling camp would say, "I notice the laundry basket is still sitting here.  Would you mind putting those away today?"  This may seem like no big deal to some of you, but to me this is Life.  Changing.

I am a judger from way back, Honey.  I should have been a tax auditor or an editor.  If there is anything wrong with you or something you've done, I can find it in a hot minute.  I also have the ability to turn these super-powered judging lenses inward on myself.  I can and will find the faults within me then make a slew of shame-inducing negative comments toward myself.  What I'm learning is to slow down and listen before speaking to others or judging myself.  What a concept!  I listen for how the other person seems to feel and what it is they seem to be saying about what they need.  This is particularly difficult to do if the other person is actually trying to place their own anger, sadness, guilt, etc. on me, but it can be done.  Another example, a co-worker huffs into my office and with a tone says, "your report is still not done, and I can't finish up my final report until you do your job."  My first reaction is to not really hear this person but to fire back with an equally angry-toned remark.  However, if I pause and try to connect with what the co-worker is feeling, hear what she needs, and choose not to take anything personal from her comment, I will hear that she sounds stressed.  It seems like she's also saying that having her work done on time is important to her.  If I just hear those things and respond from that, she and I are much more likely to have a pleasant ending to this conversation.

Some folks call this "non-violent communication."  I like that, because it highlights the fact that communicating any other way is likely to feel "violent."  There are some wonderful booklets and websites about this as well, describing this as giraffe v. jackal language.  The giraffe seeks to connect, while the jackal seeks to attack.  Here's an article that says it much better than I can: .  I'll even go so far as to attach a value-laden label to the article and say it's awesome! 

I'm learning that when I am purposeful and thoughtful when choosing my words, I am left feeling clear-headed about myself and the situation.  Connecting, sorting through, and giving objective observations feels kind and gentle, both to myself and others.  All we really want is to build up others and ourselves, and it feels good to know that I can do the bulk of that work by carefully choosing my own words.  Now that is powerful.

The photo above can be found at:


  1. Hi Melissa! Stopping by to check out your blog :) I love your post! Everything from a hiatus being a good thing to the two camps...great stuff. Hey--add a follower option to this blog of yours so that I may follow you. I'm sure others will, too :D

  2. Hey randi lee, thanks for stopping by! I also appreciate you pointing out that my "follower" option wasn't enabled. It used to be, and it somehow got lost in my recent upgrade.