The Power of Words

February 2014, by So-Young Kang

We often underestimate the power of our words.

When I was young, my father told me to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “I am strong. I am healthy. I am powerful.” I’m so grateful for this because I believe that the power of his words spoken over me since I was a child have given me the confidence, fortitude, and inner strength to keep moving forward and has shaped who I am today. (Thank you, Daddy.)

I have also had my equal share of negative words spoken over me as well. One of the most hurtful ones was that I was ugly. This was my nickname growing up and it took me until five years ago to truly understand the meaning of real beauty.

When words are spoken, they can actually carry the power of truth—the truth of someone’s real identity. Oftentimes when we speak out of anger, frustration, or our own sense of hurt, we will spew out words that are not actually truth; they are actually not reflective of what we really believe. In the context of such anger, we sometimes give ourselves permission to speak things that are false, which then ends up forming a different narrative. So, with words, we have the power the reshape and recalibrate truth and identity.

On average, we speak about 16,000 words per day. Imagine that words are like seeds that can be planted to give life, to nurture, and to grow while other times, we use words to plant negativity and hurt. Imagine how different our relationships and the world around us would be if we used those seeds in powerful and positive ways. When I see our team, I realize that a lot of them have never been given words of affirmation. So I go out of my way to tell them how great they are, because they are great.

When I talk about the power of words, I’m not suggesting that everything you say has to be positive or great, even when things are not great. You can even use the power of words to discipline. For example, you can say, “I know you have the potential to be a leader. My expectations are for you to be up here and you have performed here in the past, but recently, I’m seeing you here [lower standard]. Help me to understand where the gap is coming from.”

It could be that the person didn’t realize it or that they recently had a traumatic experience. There are many reasons why these gaps exist. So from there, you can use it as an opportunity to mentor or to coach and develop to help rise up to the potential that you know is inside of them and still calling forth their greatness.

So as a leader, the words we speak, carry a lot of weight and have a lot of impact. In fact, our organizations are often hanging on every word that is spoken and trying to understand what we mean. Given the power of words, how can we use them in the most wise way possible? Because they are actually so powerful.