We’ve already looked at how actions and appearance can affect your relationships. Now we’ll look at the words you use and how you use them.
I learned my lesson about how words can have a negative effect on a relationship when I gave a seminar in Dallas several years ago. I responded to a question a participant asked by saying, “Oh my god. What a great question. Thank you.”
At the end of each seminar I ask participants to fill out an evaluation. I was stunned to see one evaluation which had a message scrawled across it in three-inch high letters: “How dare you take the Lord’s name in vain!” I had meant no disrespect. I have used that phrase and heard it used by others numerous times. But all that didn’t matter. What mattered was that when I uttered the phrase, my relationship with that participant was irrevocably damaged.
I realized from that moment on that I had to be more careful with my words. Even if a word is not derogatory to me, but it potentially could be problematic to a person with whom I am communicating, then I need to adjust my word choice. In business, words matter, and the opinion of the other person about the words we use matters.
Not only do the words you use matter, the quality of your voice and how you say the words matter as well. Consider how the following characteristics relate to you as you do your self-evaluation:
Tone of voice. Even if your message is meant to be helpful, a negative tone, such as sarcasm, may be hurtful
Speed. If you speak too fast, people will have a tough time understanding you. Slow down, especially on the telephone where the other person doesn’t have visual clues to help interpret your message.
Inflection. Try talking in a dull, monotonous tone for even a couple of minutes. Stressing certain words can bring emphasis to your message and engage your listener(s).
Laughter. A pleasant laugh is great; but a shrill, nasal, cackle à la Fran Drescher in The Nanny is grating and unpleasant and a turn-off to people with you.
Accent. If you have an accent, it can be difficult for others to understand you. Combine accent with speed and you have a sure-fire recipe for people not being able to understand you.
Pronunciation. Get the pronunciation of words correct. Here are five commonly mispronounced words:
Athlete. It’s ath-lete, not ath-a-lete.
Candidate: It’s can-di-date, not can-i-date.
Specific. It’s spe-cif-ic, not pa-cif-ic.
Espresso. It’s es-pres-o, not ex-pres-o.
Often. It’s of-en, not of-ten.
And thank you to all those readers who wrote in to explain the difference between a tic and a tick.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.