A Matter of Words, Words that Matter

August 18 2013

For the last decade I have studied and taught courses in Communication and Rhetoric and I am always surprised at how easily people overlook the role communication plays in our lives. While we often speak in clichés like actions speak louder than words, we forget how intimately tied words and actions are. We establish credibility with others, build relationships, and maintain the minutiae of daily life with and through communication. Instead of lamenting that a person or a politician is all rhetoric and no action, take some time to think about how our shared cultural values generate the rhetoric we use and connect to the actions we do and do not take.

Because our words and actions are so closely connected I want to take the opportunity the Listserve has provided to encourage you to be more mindful of how you communicate. These are a few tips and suggestions I often share with my students in an attempt to encourage more careful and mindful communication. While none of them are earth shattering, when I work carefully at using them in my everyday life I can see the quality of the relationships around me improve.

First, the best piece of advice I have ever received about communication came from my mentor. He was fond of saying “Listening is an ethical choice we make.” Hearing as an auditory capacity is not the same as listening. Listening is an intensive activity. Listening requires vulnerability. Listening and willing to be vulnerable to what someone has to say allows us to communicate in a more open environment. We often fail to listen because we allow our predispositions to block communication before it ever begins.

Second, be active in your communication. We often thoughtlessly react to what others say. This begins a negative chain of communication that can be counter-productive. Beyond failing to listen, we utter the first thing we think of and we fail to be active and mindful. If we communicate more creatively and more actively we can avoid reacting to others and damaging relationships with those around us.

Last, don’t get hung up on assuming the intent of the person communicating with you. What I mean is, it is impossible to know for sure what a person intended to mean when they say something to us. When I think of the missteps I make in everyday communication it is often because I assume why someone said something to me, I take offense at them for the purpose behind what they said. In reality, I can never know the intent behind their statement unless they tell me. Try and avoid making assumptions about the meaning of, and purpose behind, someone’s statement and see how it changes the flow of your communication.

These three tips are small but intensive suggestions. Practicing them all the time is difficult and I fail to do so far more often than I would like to admit. However, I find that when I put these tips into practice I am a better communicator. That said these tips are also not a panacea. They will not fix every problem you have. In closing, I would love to hear what you struggle with or excel at when you communicate with others. Reach out to me via email at [email protected] or via twitter @AcaGuy.


George F. (Guy) McHendry, Jr.
[email protected]
Omaha, NE USA

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