The Power of Words

By | 2017-01-13T13:42:17+00:00 July 21st, 2011|Categories: Respectful Workplace|Tags: |2 Comments

Most of us grew up with the nursery rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. At a young age, when we would parrot such expressions while being verbally bullied, it seemed quite effective. There we would be, two kids face-to-face, finding our way through our worlds – the playground or the classroom, deciding who would have the upper hand. Usually once this exchange was completed, order was established and we went on about our business. Whatever was said by the bully didn’t seem to matter once the familiar retort was spoken. However, today we communicate in many more ways than we once did. We have a variety of hand held gadgets and the internet. We can hide behind these as walls of defense and as a result we are far more likely to say things we would not say face-to-face.

One of the main reasons for this kind of talk lies in not thinking about what we are going to say before we actually speak. We are in too big of a hurry, or so we believe, to express what we are really thinking. It’s important to take the time to think through what we are about to say. What is our intention and what tone do we want to use? Words are very powerful and once spoken, they cannot be retracted.

Despite the fact that apologies are sometimes made in the aftermath, the cruel intentions behind derogatory comments linger, as do the hurt feelings – sometimes indefinitely.

There are also benefits to hearing positive messages. So many times we may say something to someone in passing which strikes a chord with them and brightens their lives. I know in working with at risk youth how an understanding ear and a few kind words can have a major impact on how someone feels at the moment. All of us have times in our lives when we feel lonely or even isolated. We can be experiencing some sadness or we can be feeling shame about something. Often it is hard to think that anyone else could understand what we are experiencing. At such moments, someone can say something to us which makes us suddenly feel connected again. The weight of the world is lifted from our shoulders and we actually feel good about ourselves.

Many of us spend time on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Depending on whom we choose to ‘friend’, ‘follow’, or ‘like’ sets the tone for the messages we receive. I find inspiring thoughts and quotations to be particularly welcome. In fact, I share such quotes and insights daily on my own pages. Because I receive a lot of positive feedback, I know that other people like the energy of upbeat expressions from time to time.

Early in the morning I arise and with tea in hand head to my laptop in search of some daily inspiration. A word crosses my mind. I ‘google’ it followed by the word ‘quotes’. This takes me to a series of pages with loads of quotations from famous authors, statesmen, philosophers and others. As I read through the quotes, certain ones resonate with me. Those are the ones I share. This starts me off in a good mood and sharing these thoughts with others benefits us both. These messages carry very strong meaning and have a great impact on how I choose to feel about my life and the world around me throughout the day.

As we spend more time thinking about how words impact us, we realize just what an impact our words have on others. We recognize harsh hurtful words and how they make us feel. We recognize kind and inspiring words too and begin to see the vast difference in the feelings that those words have on us.

The words we choose reflect how we feel about ourselves and our place in the world. By making some mental notes about the words we use, we can begin to appreciate them even more and then begin to change them if necessary. We develop more compassion for our friends and for ourselves. These are skills which we will hone over our entire lives. What better place to practice speaking and writing with more awareness than at home, with those we love and trust. We are then in a stronger position to take this with us to our schools and our jobs and make better choices about the words we decide to use.

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About the Author:

Jay Remer
Jay Remer is certified by the Protocol School of Washington as a consultant for corporate etiquette and international protocol. He lives in St. Andrews, NB, Canada. For more information, visit


  1. Derek Irvine, Globoforce July 22, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Important post. That childhood playground refrain brings back so many memories. Several years ago now, as an adult, I heard someone explain the truth of that phrase (which is born out in your post). The phrase should be:

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart.”

    I was glad to see you include the power of positive words, too. In terms of the workplace, think how powerful it would be to create a culture of recognition and appreciation in which employees at all levels regularly express and hear positive words – words of commendation and appreciation with specific details on why that person and their efforts are matter.

    For too many years, the aphorism above has been allowed in the workplace, if not actively encouraged under the false belief that “hardness” – cracking the whip – inspires employees to work more.

    This couldn’t be farther from the truth. When employees know their work has meaning and that someone has noticed their efforts and appreciates them, they are far more motivated to continue down that path. I write passionately about this on my own blog (linked above) and am glad to see others do the same to carry this important message forward.

    Your last point about carrying these skills home is critical, too. I firmly believe that being thankful and appreciative becomes a habit. Employees who may not experience in their personal lives but begin to experience regularly at work often carry these new skills in appreciation and thankfulness into their home lives as well. I wrote about this recently in a post about Zappos Culture Book in which one employee said:

    “Our culture reminds me to be patient, generous, and kind. And, because I’m living that every day at work, it spills over into my personal life, and I find myself more patient, more generous, and more kind there also. In that way, the Zappos Culture not only benefits me, but it also benefits my friends and family.”

    That post is available in full here:
    Many thanks to you and the team at Respectful Workplace for the good work you do that is most assuredly contributing to changing the workplace attitude for the better.

  2. […] recent post on The Power of Words struck a chord with me. Author Jay Remer uses the schoolyard taunt “sticks and stones may […]

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