Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Improving Your Verbal Skills by Choice of Words

I settled into my assigned seat on the airplane – a bulkhead seat, which meant I had no seat in front of me. The flight attendant advised me to put my attaché underneath my seat, which I did. Just as I was buckling up and getting ready for takeoff, a man took the seat behind me. Seeing my attaché, he stood over me, hands on hips, and said in a loud voice, “Move your attaché. It doesn’t belong there, and I don’t want it there. Move it right now!”

I moved my attaché. Actually I wanted to hit him with it, but somehow I resisted.  For the remainder of that flight, however, I sat there with smoke coming out of my ears because of the way this passenger had spoken to me.  Fifteen minutes later I was able to think of some wonderful retorts for him, but I had no opportunity to use them. (I can always think of good lines fifteen minutes late!)

The man’s choice of words had made me angry. I didn’t mind moving my attaché. All he needed to say was, “Would you mind moving your attaché so I can have more foot room” I would have done so gladly and never given tit a second thought. So, it wasn’t the message - “move your attaché” – that bugged me. It was the choice of words.

This kind of scene happens on a regular basis in each of our lives, and particularly in our working worlds. We throw messages around carelessly without thinking about the impact those words will have on the other person and, all too often, without caring about the impact.

Thriving on our jobs will require close attention to our choice of words. Proverbs 21:23 says, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” In other words, we save ourselves large amounts of trouble and grief as we get better at choosing words that go down easy and not works that cause others to be upset, defensive, or negative. 

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