Words as Swords & Shields

We all know that old childhood chant about sticks and stones, which is more a talisman against the pain of words than a truth.  Words have power whether you are a word person or not, and at any age.  We just graduate in adulthood from broad words like ‘dummy’ into more subtle word usage as warfare.


When we want to lash out, we use words in place of swords to strike at a person – so-and-so isn’t very ‘professional’, or ‘can I be brutally honest here?’, plus plenty of other examples we could each find in daily use.  Is this a matter of the best defense is a good offense, in other words protecting yourself when you feel vulnerable by setting the pack on someone else, or something else entirely?


The most innocent examples of words as weapons are the offhand remarks we may make that have a charged meaning for the listener that we are had no idea about.  ‘Hey, you’re here’ to someone who arrived late can be perceived as laced with evil intent if the person has a history of being on the receiving end of veiled threats regarding tardiness.  We can be aware that certain people are very sensitive, but the onus is on the listener in this case to ask for clarification before taking offense.


Communication is so very vital to all of our interactions; this element of ulterior motives just adds another layer to interpretation.  On the other side are all the words that we throw up as shields to deflect or protect ourselves.  ‘I can’t’, ‘I’ll try’, ‘It’s not my job’, ‘He did it’ – this list is also quite varied and long.


How do we know when someone’s words are real or weapons?  In many cases, it comes down to knowing that person well enough to understand their motives.  We might be able to get clued in by their tone and body language as well.  The one clear indicator that we can pick up on easily is the use of qualifying statements.  The example that I used above about being brutally honest is a qualifying statement – whatever comes after this statement will negate the qualifier in some way.  The speaker doesn’t have any interest in being honest, he or she wants to be brutal, but somehow not be held responsible.


Qualifying statements are the lead in to lull the listener so that they won’t be shielded – ‘you did a great job there, BUT…’ – here comes the real meaning of the remark, with that qualifier smoothing the way.  Slash comes the sword.


We’re all too old to chant that words will never hurt us – plus we know full well that they do.  What can we do then?  We can make sure we do our best in our own word choices, to ensure that they truly and clearly convey our intent.  We can look for any nugget of truth in the words that others use and toss aside the rest.  And take pride in our own effort to pierce ulterior motives.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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