I’m happy to announce that I’ve started a new position as Adjunct Faculty with Institute for Transformational Leadership at Georgetown University. The institute is globally recognized for offering training to the world’s top coaches, corporate executives and experts from many fields and occupations.
Now, on to this month’s blog:
💬 Your Words Matter
Are You Care-ful or Care-less When You Speak?
Our emotions and experience are layers of biology, biography, and backstory.”
– Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart
I’ve been thinking about how much our words matter.
It’s easy to be careless about what we say and how we say it. I’ll admit that I have some habitual “go to” responses that abruptly flood my mind and body when I feel provoked. This can happen in many kinds of situations – political disagreements, hurt feelings, discord with loved ones or colleagues. Sometimes I react automatically, almost viscerally, in ways that I later question or regret. Does this ever happen with you?
More true confession. Sometimes when I feel hurt or angry, I experience a brief respite of emotional relief when I release a few negative words or strike out in some way. It can feel like quickly opening the release valve to reduce the pressure I’m experiencing. I may spew out the first words that come to mind, and for a moment that explosion can feel really good. I may even feel justified in my response. But then, the pressing emotion passes on and I’m left realizing what I said lacked thoughtfulness, kindness, or compassion, knowing that these words not only didn’t send positive energies into the world, they also generated negativity in my own personal energetic space.
With a bit of distance and reflection I realize that what began with a need to protect or defend myself, concludes with knowing that I should have expressed my emotions differently or not at all.
Words matter. Sometimes careless words slip out instantly and reflexively, before we can take a breath to pause and discern. Sometimes we choose the easiest word, the harshest word, etc, but if we paused for a moment, paused to create a quick intermission between our experience and our response, we might have made a different choice (Frankl,1984; Goleman & Boyatzis, 2017). We might choose to express ourselves more thoughtfully, descriptively, honestly, kindly.
What about you? I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that some of you can relate, especially when emotions are running fast and strong.
Recently, my friend gave me the book, Atlas of the Heart. Based on her extensive research, University of Houston professor Brené Brown, PhD, (2021) writes about how our untamed and often shifting emotions can leave us feeling adrift, lost, and less connected to others than might be beneficial.
Brown discusses 87 thoughts and emotions to help readers gain greater understanding of their own nuanced experiences (2021). The premise is that as we improve our ability to label our emotions, we become more able to process and express them productively and in a way that is healing (Brown, 2021). These understandings offer a map to help us discover where we are, how we may have arrived there, and our next steps.
Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David, PhD, (2016) suggests that learning to recognize our emotions and label them with a more precise vocabulary can transform our ability to communicate our wants and needs. Naming and labeling our emotions can help us identify for ourselves what matters to us within our own experience. This capacity to express ourselves from the inside out can support our own psychological wellbeing and also help us reach out for the support we desire – or even long for – from others (David, 2016; Goleman 2017;1996).
There are no one-and-done solutions to the complexities of managing our emotions and speaking with greater care. Yet some communication strategies can help us share our thoughts, needs, and desires with greater clarity and effectiveness. One well-known skill is the “I message” (Darrington & Bower, 2012; McKay, 2009). An I message can help us express ourselves more honestly and directly using a soft voice beginning with the word “I.”
I feel________________(share your thought or feeling: angry, worried, concerned)
Because______________(name the specific reason you feel this way. Offer an example, if possible)
I want_______________(suggest what you think might help or resolve the situation)
I feel angry when you don’t clean up after yourself when you make dinner. I would like you to wash your dishes and wipe the table.
I think it’s important for all members of our team to get to morning meetings on time. I’m asking you to make timely attendance a priority in your scheduling.
📚 For more information about the power of words and managing emotions, and here are a few resources:
- Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brene̛ Brown, PhD (2021)
- Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck to Embrace Challenges and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD (2016)
- Good Morning, I Love You: Mindfulness and Self-compassion Practices to Rewire Your Brain for Calm, Clarity, and Joy by Shauna Shapiro, PhD (2020)
- Messages: The Communication Skills Book by McKay, Davis & Fanning (2009)
- Opening Up by Writing It Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain by James W. Pennebaker & Joshua M. Smyth (2016)
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. No content is a substitute for consulting with a qualified mental health or healthcare professional.
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- Brown, B. (2021). Atlas of the heart. Mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience. New York, NY: Random House.
- Darrington, J. & Brower, N. (2012). Effective communication skills: “I” messages and beyond. All Current Publications. Paper 791.
- David, S. (2016). Emotional agility: Get unstuck to embrace challenges and thrive in work and life. New York, NY: Avery.
- Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Goleman, D., & Boyatzis, R. (2017). Emotional intelligence has 12 elements. Which do you need to work on. Harvard Business Review, 84(2), 1-5.
- McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P. (2009). Messages: The communication skills book. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
- Shapiro, S. (2020). Good morning, I love you: Mindfulness and self-compassion practices to rewire your brain for calm, clarity, and joy. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
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