Words can hurt or help

Hurtful phrases may be worse than sticks and stones. Either way, those hurts jangle when someone either deliberately or in haste flings negative words your way:

• “You made yet another mistake”
• “You’re always saying sorry!”
• “Whatever”
• “No idea”
• “Don’t be so stupid!”
• “Well, good for you”

Sarcasm is often a person’s way of deflecting the real issues. But each hurtful phrase has its subtext, which isn’t always easy to brush away.

Jargon, coarse, clubby behaviour, uninterested body language, ageist, sexist or racist put-downs all add up to a negative climate that rapidly can turn hostile.

Some people don’t think or feel enough

People in this impatient high-tech world frequently disparage those who they perceive are not “getting” something (whatever that may be) sufficiently rapidly. Sometimes a person may be experiencing hardship in their lives and is consequently very vulnerable. They may be beset by tremendous insecurities (both real and perceived) and careless words can feel like blows.

When people enjoy a certain amount of success and affluence, they are in effect living in cosy bubbles, which reduce their ability to recognise what others may be feeling.

Don’t sneer at someone’s flounderings or blame them for their misfortune.

Empathy may be an essential lifeline

When the boat of your existence is threatened by giant waves, a friendly hand or helping arm is what you seize, grateful that someone cares. This is how empathy is engendered and from there, we assemble different building blocks that become helpful words and gestures, demonstrating willingness to share the load:

• “Would you like me to try and fix it?”
• “Do you need some more time to work on this?”
• “Would you like to take time out and speak privately?”
• “Can I help you with that?”

Sometimes people don’t want you to speak; they need you to listen. You need to study what they may be experiencing before speaking too quickly. By listening to what they say, and refraining from judging, you may hear them more acutely.

Phrase your responses accordingly and you may find hollow phrases or smarmy gestures disappear.

Words instead form a bridge: conversation and interactions form an alchemical rainbow that lead you both in directions you would never have imagined.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. See the rest of Eve’s blogs here.

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