Tumour, surgery, cancer… Words really do matter!

Words Really Do Matter

When my doctor said: “tumour, surgery, cancer” my heart hit my mouth, my blood drained to my feet, and my breath caught in my throat.

(Now before I go on, I’m going to answer your questions: Just so you know, I’ve had the surgery, the ovary is gone, and there is no cancer. I’m going to be just fine.)

But later when I thought about what I’d heard the doctor say in those terrifying first moments, I realized the importance of word choice and the impact words have on the message.

Words do matter

There has been a widely cited study on the impact of words, tone and body language in face-to-face conversation. The study basically concluded that words have very little impact on our communication; only seven per cent of a speaker’s message is supposedly affected by the words we use. I have always disagreed with this, and was pleased to find that this study has been debunked in recent years.

Words do have a large impact on communication. Words do matter. The interpretation of the words we use is what really matters, so we have to be aware of what the words are communicating to our listeners when we use them.

When my boys first said “mum-mum-mum,” it was one of the happiest sounds I had ever heard. (Now, 17 years later, not so much, lol.) It was a very positive experience for me and leaves me with great memories and tears in my eyes.

When my husband said, “I love you” for the first time, my heart soared. When we said “I do” together, it was thrilling. “Please” and “Thank-you” are excellent words to use (and will get you very far in life). Don’t forget the importance of using someone’s name, and saying “You’re welcome” instead of “un-huh.”

You know this, right? Well, start paying attention to how often you hear these simple and positive words. We live in a negative society where the lack of positive communication is ubiquitous. Look at the people you work with. Do they say “please” and “thank you”? And when you do, do you mean it, or are you just saying those words to be polite? (People can tell the difference).

Some distracting words include “but,” “should have,” “need to,” and anything that includes profanity. If my husband says “I love you, but….” then the positive impact of the “I love you” is lost.

“Should have,” “could have,” and “have to” are guilt-causing words that have a negative impact. Have you heard the expression, “stop shoulding on yourself”?

When you tell a co-worker that she “needs to” do something it feels like an order, not a request. Do I need to do that for you, or are you asking me to do something for you, please?

There has been a change in conversation in the workplace over the years which includes a collection of words that are so unprofessional, they affect the entire conversation. Remember the old George Carlin skit “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television”? Those seven words are now regularly said on television, and they’re being used widely in the workplace. What words are like nails on a chalkboard for you? Use Facebook to respond and comment (and ask others what words are like nails on a chalkboard for them) – you’ll get conversation from others for sure.  Together we can make sure we aren’t using negative words and affecting our own reputations.

Since it is the interpretation of the words that matters, as a true professional we must ensure that our messages are received as intended. Make sure the person you are communicating with understands what you are trying to say.

As a professional, you must also ensure that you understand what the other person is trying to say as well. Ask for clarification when necessary; don’t leave anything to chance.

So, when my doctor said those awful words to me, I didn’t overreact. I didn’t panic (for more than three seconds, anyway). I replayed them in my head, and realized that she had said, ‘You have a tumor on your ovary; we will need to remove it surgically. I really don’t think there is any cancer, so don’t be worried about it.”

She was right—there was no cancer. I’m glad I made a point to understand all of her words, and not just the negative ones.

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