Sunday, January 27, 2008

JWN: The Power of Our Words

The Power of Our Words

“Our words will always do one of two things; build people up or tear them down.”

I put much value in the written and spoken word. Nothing impresses me more than a well written or spoken individual. You know exactly the type of person I’m talking about; they speak with ease and command respect with even their simplest notes.

Where does this eloquence come from?

It comes from a few things;

1) Reading. People with the greatest command of words are generally those that read the most. Expose yourself to more words. Also, use a dictionary! I always keep one near my desk (where I do the most writing).

2) Writing. Put the pen to the paper and give it a shot. Rewrite and revise. Get somebody to look your work over.

3) Thinking before you speak. The best speakers are usually the best listeners. They have well processed thoughts that are communicated with carefully chosen words.

How does this affect you?

1) Your words are your image. Know what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. That combination sets the tone for how people will view you.

2) Your words facilitate respect (or disrespect). Speak and write like a professional and you will be respected as a professional.

3) Your words affect others. This comes back to that first quote. Life is about the relationships you have. The words you use strengthen or weaken those bonds.

Mr. Gary Vail, a mentor to me and former Athletic Director at Windsor Central School District, always told me (and his other athletes), “Perfect practice makes perfect.” This applies to writing as well. Do it and do it well.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist at times (a strength and a weakness). In fact, I’m borderline OCD when it comes to writing; especially personal articles and of course, The VIP Profiles. I value myself at a high level, so I want my words to make people think of me at that level.

It comes back to a principle I discussed in my article “Commanding a Presence” (click here to read it). Just as you need to dress the part you want to play, you need to speak the part you want to play. If you want to be a great computer scientist, write and talk like one. If you want to be President of the United States, know how to inspire a nation.

When we think about Presidents, what is it we remember? Their speeches.

Those words are chosen very carefully. I recommend reading Abraham Lincoln’s speeches. He wrote all of his own stuff and put an incredible amount of thought time into his addresses.

There is a small memorial dedicated to those that lost their lives in the Civil War in Geneseo. It features a worn down tribute to those soldiers with the Gettysburg Address. I stopped to read that timeless speech on a run the other day. Absolutely brilliant!

Think about how often you verbally communicate during the day. What are your words saying about you?

Since I was young, my parent’s always urged me not to fall into the trap of writing with poor grammar in emails or on instant messaging services. That stuck with me and it should strike a chord in you.

Read that email over (at least once) before you send it out; especially if it’s going to your boss. In a world of ultra fast communication, many people just write and fire away.

That’s a mistake. It only takes another minute or two to edit that email before you hit send. All hastiness shows is a lack of respect.

KEY HINT: Start now with your written correspondences. Write complete sentences. Capitalize. Punctuate. Show off your diction. Make this process automatic.

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” – E. M. Forster

Pay attention to your words as they create the image you present to the world. Think before you speak and edit what you write.

Warmly yours, ~JWN