By Kirk McCarley,
At a recent Spinning class I lead, a participant greeted me with the question, “so Kirk are you going to put us through an arduous workout this morning?” Following a chuckle and a moment of processing we moved into our hour long routine. Curiously, throughout the next 60 minutes that word, arduous, resonated. For one, I was impressed that my friend Dave’s mental acuity was already percolating at 5:57 am. Secondly, it was a term I’d not heard muttered for some time.
Words and phrases have power. Consider some from the past century:
“Today I consider myself to be the luckiest person on the face of this earth.” Lou Gehrig·“December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy.” Franklin D. Roosevelt. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong·
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Ronald Reagan·
“You can’t handle the truth.” Jack Nicholson, “A Few Good Men”
In his book, “The Five Love Languages,” Gary Chapman writes we receive love in five ways: acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch, and words of affirmation. For me the most powerful is words of affirmation. To this day I can still recite almost verbatim parents expressing pride or praising choices, kind expressions of recognition, or positive comments in a performance evaluation. Conversely, the less affirming reminders penetrate deeper and reverberate even longer.
My mother had a glass swan on an end table. One day while running recklessly through the house, I nudged its beak, nicking it. My mom treasured that swan. The scolding, “look what you did, shame on you,” still echoes. As an adult I’ve walked into more than one, “I can’t believe you did that, what were you thinking?”
Words impact self-confidence. Even when affirmations exceed criticisms in multiplicity, the pull towards the negative is still demoralizing. Compounding that proclivity is the rhetoric we see and hear on television, in social media, and even often unintentionally from our family, friends, and neighbors. It’s almost like we’re perpetually in the balcony with Statler and Waldorf, the crankiest of muppets.
In the midst of the static, then, as in the prayer of St. Francis, “how can we be an instrument of God’s peace? Some ideas that came to mind, not only as a Career and Life Coach, but individually:
Listen. Listen actively. Active listening encourages the speaker through the listener repeating back to the speaker what they have heard them say. It’s affirming.
Save your breath, say it succinctly. I listened to a colleague the other day who spoke for 15 minutes straight, stifling hopes for active listening. I also wondered how they were able to go for 900 seconds without taking a breath!
Be curious. Be open to understanding another perspective or viewpoint.
Listen to word usage. Visual individuals will describe their viewpoint, vision, or insight. Those of an audial persuasion seek harmony, rhythm, and tempo. A kinesthetic person might feel cool to or irritated about a subject.
Be careful with assumptions. Those who I think “may think like me,” may in fact not. How about disagreeing with someone without using a negative word? In other words no can’ts, won’ts, or shouldn’ts in your lexicon. How about that for a challenge?
In these lyrics alt rockers Missing Persons refrained,
“What are words for when no one listens anymore,
What are words for when no one listens,
What are words for when no one listens,
it’s no use talkin’ at all.”
when the song “Words” was released in 1982. After 39 years, I don’t know about you, but I want to be better than that.
A graduate of the University of North Texas, Kirk McCarley is a Certified Professional Coach as well as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and SHRM-CP Certified. He also is a Production Assistant for both college football and basketball for ESPN and leads group cycling classes as a Certified Spinning instructor. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, theseedsowercoach.com, or call 314-677-8779.