Words are powerful. Your words can determine where you go in life, shape the opinions of others about you, and build the foundation for your future successes or failures.

Perhaps the most powerful ability of your words, though, is in how they reveal who you really are. Who you are on the inside is expressed outwardly through your words. If you are a person of integrity, that integrity will shine through the words you say and how you say them. If you have a serious deficiency in character, that will become evident through your words, too.

What do the words you say and how you say them reveal about you? Do they contribute toward a good reputation or do they betray you? To help you get a handle on your words, here are four basic guidelines...

1. If it doesn't need to be said, don't say it.

Far too many people use far too many words when few are needed. Often, this reflects a fear of silence. Silence, though, is nothing to be feared. Beware of the self-imposed pressure to break moments of silence with meaningless words. Proverbs 17:28 (NLT) states, "Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent."

2. Never say words to tear down; only say words that build up.

People who are critical of others often shoot themselves in the foot with their words. While constructive criticism can ultimately be helpful, most criticism tends to be destructive. Instead of encouraging others and building them up, it only serves to discourage and tear them down.

Use words that are primarily positive. When appropriate, offer helpful criticism that acknowledges the good points while offering practical suggestions for improving the negative. Then, though the criticism may sting a bit, the recipient will have the opportunity to improve and perhaps even be thankful for your comments.

Will Rogers, the famous entertainer from the early 1900s, once expressed this principle poetically: “Be careful of the words you say, keep them soft and sweet.  You never know from day to day which ones you’ll have to eat.”

3. Always avoid gossip. Always.

No good ever comes from gossip. Gossip, no matter how unintentional, can destroy a friendship and a reputation. Ultimately, it can destroy the person who is the target of the gossip. For these reasons, you should never initiate gossip nor condone it. If you are with a group who begins to gossip, you should either speak up to put an end to it or simply walk away.

“Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.” - Proverbs 21:23 (KJV)

If you are prone to gossip, perhaps the best solution is to admit it to the person you are gossiping about and offer an apology. Once you do that a few times, you will stop gossiping if only to avoid the embarrassment.

4. Do not say what you have to say; say what the other person needs to hear.

By changing your mindset away from satisfying yourself by "getting it off your chest" to considering what the other person needs to hear, you will automatically begin using your words better. Your words will become beneficial, not destructive. They will reflect well on you as a person instead of revealing a serious character flaw.

This does not mean that your words always have to be nice. Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do is challenge another person to improve in an area of attitude, performance, or character. However, if you frame your words by considering what the other person needs to hear, you will be less likely to offend. Instead, your words can serve as the motivation for that person to take positive action. Ephesians 4:29 (KJV) states “let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

The choice is yours. Will your words be used for good or for evil? Will they build others up or tear them down? Will they reflect well on you or damage your good name?

Considering the potential consequences, you should choose your words carefully so you will not regret them later. As the old axiom warns, once your words leave your mouth, you can never take them back.

Ed Burgess
11/30/2011 07:55:51 am

Great advice, although sometimes easier (ahem) said than done.

Here's one communication trick I learned for when confronted with a confrontational question: don't answer the question asked, answer the question you wish they asked.

It's basically reframing a situation or perspective, and it can help bring down hostilities while continuing the discussion in a more positive direction.

Anyway, I thought I'd share that with your readers :)

Venera Gallo
12/2/2011 10:02:55 am

I identify with a lot that's been said here. As I get older and more mature, I find I keep my peace better. I don't have to prove myself so much and win every argument. I can think longer term and not be drawn into heated exchanges.

12/5/2011 10:36:12 am

In an office environment like where I'm at, gossiping is as natural and prevalent as breathing! It's so hard to not gossip and yet not alienate others (or myself).

I admit. I still succumb to the temptation to talk behind my managers back. I have a lot of improvement to do!


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