With all that surrounds us today, there is considerable debate about free speech, words and their impact, intended and unintended consequences. I don't plan to weigh into that debate here and now, as healthy as I believe it is. Rather, given the significance of the moment, I am pausing to reflect on my own journey, my own mistakes, and learnings over the course of time.
Yes, I understand..."sticks and stones"...but words can inspire, words can encourage, words can hurt, words can incite. Words matter. In this video, I share a story, a somewhat uncomfortable example of when I chose the wrong words. Not with the slightest intent of harming or offending anyone. However, I did not think about the example I was using, the words that I spoke, and the result was that I ended up doing just that. Thankfully, the person who took offense to my remarks chose not to ignore what I said, but instead to call me out, then to invest the time in helping me to improve. It was a gift that made her a valued co-worker and friend for many years.
If you don't get a chance to watch the video and you just want the lessons learned, here they are:
1. Invest the time to choose your words wisely. If you are like me, you prefer to be more "off the cuff", it feels more authentic. I get it. However, as you hold greater responsibility, authority, or influence, having your words run counter to your intent can do significant damage. Today, before I speak to a group large or small, or even before sensitive one-on-one conversations, I often will seek the feedback of those I trust. I don't overthink it, I try not to over filter, but that small investment has helped me to better frame my point better, avoid potential landmines, and earn greater trust.
2. When you do "screw up", own it and start listening. In the video, I talk about how I quickly became defensive when approached by a member of my team. Even when the person explained her point of view, I went right back to defending my intent without accepting responsibility for the words I spoke. I would have been better served at that moment to take a deep breath and to actively listen to feedback. I want to be clear, just because someone misconstrues something you've said, or worse, taken offense to it, it doesn't automatically make them right. At the end of the conversation, you may in fact state that. But starting with an open mind and open ears will help bridge most gaps.
3. When the situation is reversed, speak up, with respect. We all have been in situations where someone has said or done something that leaves us questioning the intent. Our tendency may be to blow it off, ignore it, but more often than not it comes back to haunt us. Faced with those situations, I have learned that it is better to speak to the person open and honestly, and with an open mind. Often you can quickly clear up any misconceptions that exist and eliminate an issue or conflict that might otherwise simmer.
Words are powerful, they can have a significant impact, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. It is not a perfect science, not by a long shot, and I find myself stumbling from time to time, saying something that I regret. It doesn't stop me from leaning forward and striving for better. Thankfully the investment that someone made in me many years ago, and the investment that I make today in trying to match my words to my intent, has helped me navigate those waters more often than not.
(You can follow me on Twitter and Clubhouse @rhoniball, on LinkedIn at /rhoniball, or connect with me at www.honiball.me. The opinions expressed are my own, and subject to change, but I will admit that they are highly influenced by my wife, daughter, and many others....)