It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Our last two podcasts have really been focused on how we express love to the people around us, especially kids. Especially this past week, we talked about the idea that our words are very impactful, and so we have to be extremely aware of what we say and how we say it. It really made me think of that old saying, “It isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it.” Now, like all old sayings, it tries to make a huge point in as few words as possible, which means there isn’t a ton of room for nuance in the language used. So yes, it definitely matters what we’re trying to say. No matter what words we use, some messages are always going to be damaging and hurtful. Honestly, as much as I love a little good natured, pedantic back and forth, that’s not the point here, but feel free to bring it up on Facebook. The real point anytime we talk about the way we say things is that, if we aren’t careful, the message will get lost in the words and tones we use to say them. That’s why, in typical AJ fashion, I’m going to try and lay out a few things to be mindful of when speak.

  1. Know what you want to say. This seems really obvious, but that’s why we overlook it so often. When you watch someone you have been working with start to succeed, whether it’s in a classroom, a sports field, or anything else, a lot of times we want to express our joy and pride to them. Ok, great! For what? If we can’t pin it down, then how are they supposed to know? Are you proud because they succeeded? Because they kept working even when it was hard? Because they managed to piece something together from your attempts to explain something you yourself didn’t really get? Make sure you know.
  2. Know the person you are going to say it to. It’s important to tailor what you say to the person you’re speaking to. This is key for two reasons. First, personal messages have way more impact than general ones. There is a time and place for the generic, “You’re all doing great work!” If it’s always just that, though, it rings hollow. When it’s personalized, when you can pick out a specific part that was great work, now this shows a real interest and investment on your part in what they do. Secondly, it helps avoid obvious misconceptions. If you know how a person generally responds to certain things, or knowing their personal circumstances. I think the example of telling someone you’re sure their dad will be proud of them only to find out that their dad isn’t in their life makes what I’m saying clear. With no malicious intent on your part, you still possibly really hurt them.
  3. Be prepared to explain or clarify. No matter how careful we are, misunderstandings will happen. Also, we can’t just never say anything. Instead, we have to do the best we can in the initial phase, and then be attentive to how they take the message. If there is confusion, don’t get defensive. Ask what they heard you say, not to respond quickly with, “I didn’t say that!”, but instead being able to clarify whether they are mad about what you said, or about what they think you meant.

To be clear, no matter how careful we are about what we say and how we say it, there will still be confusions, miscommunications, hurt feelings, and all kinds of other communication break downs. When it goes wrong, learn from it, and try to make new mistakes next time!

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