This post is adapted from Steve's classic on communication, How to Talk So People Will Listen (eBook $1.99 for a limited time).
If you speak words of love, people will react to you with love. If your words reflect a seething anger, don’t be surprised if people avoid you except when they want to fight you or enlist you in their battles with someone else.
Religious people can sometimes be quite pompous. Not too long ago I was criticized quite harshly in a church magazine for something I had said. I received letters from all over the country in which people tried to correct my “spurious theological views.” But by far the most interesting feedback in that whole episode came from a quite stiff and religious young man who approached me after I had spoken at a conference. He said, “Dr. Brown, what you said grieved my heart.” (Watch it when Christians say their “heart is grieved.” That generally means they have a howitzer pointed at you and are getting ready to pull the trigger.)
I said to the young man, “Son, this is a small conference held in a small place and I’m a peon. There isn’t anything here big enough to grieve your heart.”
He was shocked and then spoke about his concern for me. “Don’t you want to hear what a brother in Christ has to say?”
“No, son,” I replied, “I really don’t, unless you want to spit it out. I’ve had about enough spiritual nonsense for one day. If you want to tell me what you really think, without all the subtle trappings, I will listen.”
“I think,” he almost shouted, “that you are arrogant and rude!” And then he started blushing. It was probably the first up-front and honest thing he had said in a long time.
“I think,” I said, “that I agree with you. But I am better than I was and God isn’t through with me yet.” Then we began to talk, and it turned out to be a very pleasant and helpful exchange.
His opening words, however, set the parameters of what was clearly going to be an adversarial relationship. He didn’t mean to do that. He just didn’t realize that words often determine how people react to people.
When I was in commercial broadcasting and part of the news team of a radio station in Boston, I learned that if one can’t pronounce a word correctly, one should mispronounce it with boldness and people will think they are wrong.
If your conversations are always reflecting “Harry’s humble habit,” you will find that people will assume that you have every reason to be humble. (As the psychiatrist said to the patient, “The reason you have an inferiority complex is because you are inferior.”) If you reflect confidence in your message (whether a sales talk, a presentation of the gospel, a sermon, or an acceptance speech), you will inspire confidence in your hearers. If you apologize for what you are about to say (“I don’t tell stories very well, but I heard the funniest joke the other day . . .” or “I am not a public speaker but . . .”) people will think that you have much about which to apologize.
The words you use will determine your success or failure in accomplishing the goal you set when you speak the words.
Words have power.
Excerpted from Steve’s revised and expanded book, How to Talk So People Will Listen, published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2014. Used by permission.