Words. They are important … aren’t they? It’s how we say stuff and share our thoughts, feelings and insight into who we are and most of us do that a lot. So it sounds about right when experts claim that we say an average of a whopping 7,000 words every day.
Or, do actions actually speak louder than words? Those language experts also say that only 7% of communication is the actual spoken words with the rest being conveyed through tone of voice and body language. So in the era of WhatsApp, where real-life interaction and phone conversations are a dying art, how much do actual words still matter?
Make or break
In relationships, words can carry a lot of weight. It was some cutting words from my now ex-husband which signalled the end of it all for me. One simple sentence revealed so much about how different we were/are as people. That incompatibility could no longer be ignored. Words bound us together in a marriage ceremony but it was also words which played a big role in breaking that apart too.
In my current relationship (!), words are having a much more positive effect. The right ones are being said at the right time whether that’s trivial crap to make us laugh or serious stuff to provide support through patches of life drama. Conversation is crucial to keep any human interaction going even if moments of silence in comfortable companionship are golden too. They can provide positive progression or negative change – and I hope it continues to be the former for a long time coming.
Putting professional pants on
In work, I interview people who have been affected by brain tumours for an amazing charity which provides support and funds research into the ruthless disease. Those interviews usually take place over email or on the phone, at the discretion of the person who I am interviewing. They are both very different experiences. Email provides me with a bit of safe distance from the true emotion of what these people have been through. Over the phone changes that dynamic completely and it is much more difficult not to be affected. It’s left me crying in the work toilets and needing a glass of wine that evening.
The charity puts employee well-being at the heart of what it does which is evident at all times. But, words telling harrowing stories can still have a deep impact as they decorate the thoughts and experience of truly difficult times. I can only hope that talking is a cathartic and healing experience for the people who graciously share their stories with me to support the charity.
Professionally and personally, I often think that I am better in the written than the spoken word. (Maybe that’s why I had so many problems securing those second dates!) Never had a truer word been said than after I recently had to give a presentation to my entire organisation. Nerves had been brewing for weeks. I knew the subject matter like the back of my hand and my workmates are a friendly and supportive bunch. But, when the moment came, I felt sick and I know I didn’t give my best performance. Forming those words reminded me of a previous job when I had to say actual words to male model David Gandy. Suddenly my tongue didn’t feel quite right in my mouth. It was the first time that I had ever delivered a presentation at work though so I didn’t beat myself up about it all too much.
When it comes to parenting, words hold all of that together too. We all know that kids say the funniest stuff as they learn to process the world which is blossoming around them. Their innocence and developing curiosity combine in the best of ways. My four-year-old TJ comes out with some amazing one-liners on an almost daily basis. Yet he has no idea why his mummy is doubled over laughing as a result. Here’s some of my favourites:
• Caterpillars grow into Buzz Lightyear
• Mummy, I can’t climb the stairs. I’ve run out of batteries.
• All the other people know that it’s Wednesday don’t they?
• I like being Theo. I don’t like being Steven. I like being me – Theo.
• When we get a cat, let’s call it Finger. Finger the cat.
Need I say any more?!
So, maybe The Bee Gees (and also Boyzone) were right when they sung about words and their huge importance. Or, maybe words are only part of a bigger picture of dynamic, time, place, people and circumstance. Those words need to go beyond surface and to deeper levels of authenticity – as well as being backed up by appropriate actions and behaviour on a regular basis. When delivered correctly, words are one of the most powerful tools we have – so let’s ensure that we choose them wisely!