Speak Kindly: Remember you’re listening

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By Thamar Jones
“Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Mother Teresa
We have been taught that, grievous words stir up anger but a soft answer turns away wrath, and that flies are easier caught with honey than vinegar. Most of us are aware that it is good to speak kindly. We have been taught that it is important to speak kindly… to others. But do we extend that same kindness to ourselves?
The reality is that we are often our harshest critic. Being hard on yourself means that you have high expectations of yourself and you want to see yourself succeed. But being too hard on yourself often leads to negative thoughts and feelings of self-blame, self-criticism and self-judgment.
The biggest downfall of being hard on yourself is the voices between your ears. Talking negatively to yourself only makes things harder on yourself, and that is not what you need. Your negative thoughts distort reality and there is nothing to be gained by repeating over and over all the things you could have done better. Instead of dwelling on the negatives think of all the energy you are wasting on bad thoughts and channel all that extra energy you now have to positive, uplifting thoughts. If you’re too hard on yourself you won’t notice them.
Some time ago I made a conscious decision to be kinder to myself and to only speak words of positivity and encouragement into my life. And you should do the same.
Think about your best friend or closest relative. Remember a time when they came to you after making a mistake or feeling like they didn’t get enough done. How did you respond? Did you tell them they sucked or better try harder next time or that you value them less? I kinda doubt it. More likely, you responded with empathy. You told them you love them even though they’re not perfect, and that it’s OK to make mistakes.
What if you told yourself those things the next time you made a mistake or expected yourself to be perfect? It sounds kind of crazy at first. You might even be worried that you’ll lose your edge if you cut yourself a break, but I promise the opposite is true.
I am so cognizant of my internal dialogue, that even certain limiting phrases have been banished from my vocabulary altogether.
Verbal crutches such as, “I Can’t”, or “I’ll try”, without us even knowing it, can damage our internal and projected confidence levels and can even negatively impact how we’re perceived at work, in class and in life.
Here are some of the words and phrases that I have banned from my vocabulary.
“Just”
This word minimizes the power of your statements and can make you seem defensive or even apologetic. Saying, “I just wanted to check in,” can be code for, “Sorry for taking up your time” or “Sorry if I’m bugging you.” It can often be a defense mechanism subconsciously used to shield ourselves from the rejection of hearing “no” or a way to avoid the discomfort of feeling like we’re asking for too much.
How to Quit: Start by rereading your emails and texts. Scan your written communications for excess “just”s that sneak in. Delete them. Notice how much stronger and straightforward the statements sound. Then gradually shift to doing the same in real-time, spoken communication.
“I’m no expert, but…”
We often preface our ideas with qualifiers such as, “I’m not sure what you think, but…” This speech habit typically crops up because we want to avoid sounding pushy or arrogant, or we fear being wrong. The problem is, using qualifiers can negate the credibility of your statements. We all sometimes offer opinions or observations that don’t go anywhere or prove to be incorrect. That’s the nature of being human, and it won’t cost you your job or reputation. Pointing out why you may be wrong before saying anything is a waste of your words. Rephrase your statement sans qualifier, giving your words a greater impact.
“I can’t”
When you say “I can’t,” you’re sacrificing ownership and control over you actions. It conveys that you don’t have the skill to do something, but chances are that what you’re really trying to say that you don’t want to do it. Throwing around “I can’t” connotes a fear of failure or lack of will. Your words shape your reality, so saying “I can’t” limits you and allows fear to win. Increase ownership over what you say by replacing “I can’t” with “I won’t.” This is a subtle yet powerful way to demonstrate agency, independence, and control – especially in work environments where you may feel ordered around. While it might feel intimidating at first, it gives you a chance to assert your boundaries for a better work-life balance.
“What if we tried…?”
You’re more likely to be trusted and taken seriously when you straightforwardly state your ideas, rather than couch them as a question. Masking your opinions as questions invites rebuttal and can lead to you feeling criticized. Stating an idea as a question when it’s not is equal to sacrificing ownership over the idea. It’s also a way of “polling,” which subconsciously speaks to the fact that you don’t think your own ideas are valuable, valid, or worthwhile unless everyone thinks so.
Anytime you have a suggestion, present it as a statement rather than a question. “What if we tried targeting a new set of customers?” sounds much less certain than “I think we could target a new set of customers who will be more receptive to our sales efforts.”
Making these small changes to my vocabulary have strengthened the confidence I have in myself and my abilities.
Use these techniques to improve your self-confidence and the self-confidence of others around you. Remember: you are listening, so be careful what you say.