RSS The Importance of Words

We have all been exposed to such phrases as “don’t speak unless you’re spoken to” and “actions speak louder than words.” I’d like to share my perspective on the power of communication, and specifically, sharing a couple of stories, which I hope will exemplify the importance of words to both the sender and the receiver of a message. 

I’ll start by sharing a personal example so that you’ll know why I think this topic is important. From my earliest memories, my parents shared with me that I should become an attorney when I grew up. They saw the passion I had to provide a compelling argument to things they asked of me and observed that I often took a position on an issue whether or not I really believed it. It became a bit of a problem for me as a sophomore in high school, when the words I chose to share about one of my classmates (Jim) caused him to think of me as a bully. At the time I had no idea, but it created such a chasm for him that we didn’t speak to each other the remainder of our sophomore year, or our entire junior year. At the beginning of our senior year we discovered that we had a class together, I think it was Sociology. On the first day of class, I was seated at a desk with an open spot beside it. As Jim entered the room, I asked him if he wanted to sit down next to me, which resulted in a very strange reaction, one of near shock. What I later learned from Jim, and have been teased by him relentlessly for ever since, was that he had harbored such ill will toward me, that it had a profound impact on him. I don’t remember what I said (I know he does), but I sure understand now the impact that words can have on people!  Just so you know, we have been lifelong friends since our senior year, and I have spent much time reflecting on how important it is to think about the words I use and the power words have to motivate or de-motivate individuals’ attitudes and performances. 

To provide a more business-oriented example, consider the following exchange that I recall years ago when I was assuming a new role within my company. My supervisor at the time shared with me something along the lines of this: “with this new opportunity comes added responsibility and scrutiny as to the results that need to be achieved.  It is important to develop a plan that achieves tangible results.” To my supervisor, the intention was simply to provide encouragement and direction to me in my new job. To me however, I interpreted the intent of the message as somewhat threatening. I placed hidden meaning to the words “added” and “scrutiny,” which made me feel that this new opportunity came with additional risk not present in my current assignment. Obviously that’s not the case.  In every job there is a high level of performance oversight. The added scrutiny was simply in reference to the yet-to-be-created strategic plan I needed to create and the related outcomes I was to achieve. 

In both of these examples I believe there were teachable outcomes for me, and hopefully for you too. The first: We shouldn’t assume that individuals are interpreting the words we communicate in the exact way we present them. Second, we need to be mindful that IF there is a “disconnect” between what we say and the message that is heard there could be harmful, even negative consequences. This is especially true if we don’t KNOW that there may be a “disconnect. “ Words form sentences, and sentences are open to interpretation, both by the sender and the receiver. Good communication requires both parties to be actively listening, seeking to understand both the words, and the meaning behind them.

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Home About Archive Mitch HagstromMitch Hagstrom
Executive Vice President
Chief Banking Officer
Pacific Continental Bank

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