“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

There is power in the spoken word. The power to build up, encourage, and honor — and the power to tear down, discourage, and dishonor.

A word” has the power to create a reality according to Psychology today.[1]A single word can change the outcome of legal matters according to Conversation analyst Elizabeth Stokoe. [2]Emily Dickinson put it this way, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.”[3]

Have you ever stopped to think about how even the smallest of words can change the impact a conversation?

Take for example the word “but.”

Recently I was talking with a young woman about a relationship issue she was having. As she began to describe the situation, she started to take responsibility for her role in the dispute. Then, before she concluded her confession, she included the word but. “Sure I let them down,” she said, “but, I didn’t have time to do what I had promised — and they constantly let me down anyway,” she went on to say.

As our conversation continued, I realized my friend had no intention of accepting any responsibility for her role in the conflict. Instead, she was focused on justifying her decision to disappoint her best friend. Why is it, we have such a hard time simply admitting guilt and instead, continually look for ways to justify our mistakes and poor decisions?

I wish I could say I haven’t fallen into this same trap, but I’m sorry to say I have, more often than I like to admit. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves using un-necessary words that cause conversations to turn in negative directions, rather than choosing our words carefully, accepting responsibility, and only saying what is truly helpful, honoring, and appropriate.

“God says, “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.”  Proverbs 10:19 (NIV)

Remember,

  1. “But” can imply, “I take no responsibility.”
  2. “But” can imply, “I am the victim in this situation.”
  3. “But” can imply, “I believe I am justified in my actions.”

So, how can we improve our the outcomes of our conversations and avoid words that derail our discussions?

  1. Think before speaking.
  2. Listen carefully and ask constructive questions.
  3. Concentrate on communicating with care.

Let your words represent truth in love and usher in hope, healing, and reconciliation.

What words have you used recently, will you strive to avoid today and in the future?

[1]Psychology Today Article, Scientists Find That a Single Word Can Alter Perceptions, by Christopher Bergland, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201308/scientists-find-single-word-can-alter-perceptions, accessed 1-24-16.

[2]Lawyers Weekly Article, Researcher reveals the power of a single word in mediation, by Felicity Nelson,http://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/news/17014-reseacher-reveals-the-power-of-a-single-word-in-mediation, accessed 1-24-16.

[3]Quote from Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/82436-i-know-nothing-in-the-world-that-has-as-much, accessed 1-24-16.