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Insights & Opinions | November 15, 2012

Words matter


It's never too late to say what must be said

©iStockPhoto/Jason Lugo

Last Friday evening, my husband and I attended our youngest son's high school swim and dive team awards banquet. Colin's coach took particular care to speak encouraging words about the accomplishments each swimmer and diver had this season. That's what sets this coach apart. As a guidance counselor and swim coach at our local high school, he understands that words have great power. His words will be like apples of gold to those student athletes now and throughout their lives. (Proverbs 25:11)

Understanding the power of the spoken word doesn't come naturally to us. So much about our relationships depends on communication. "Good communication isn't just what you say, it's how you say it," declares professional speech coach and author Joan Detz. How we string words together makes all the difference.

Biblical precepts back this up. For instance, in Proverbs 15 we learn that an apt answer is a joy to a man, and that a righteous man ponders how to answer. Knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it helps to clearly convey our message. More importantly, these principles help Christ followers to convey our message with kindness. (Ephesians 4:29)

Right this minute, your "final project" team collaborators may be pressing every one of your patience buttons. A good friend's overt complaining might be draining relational energy. Maybe you've got a valid concern that you need to bring to your boss's attention. Or, worst case scenario: you need to say you're sorry. Every one of these challenges requires that we "suit the action to the word, the word to the action," as William Shakespeare's Hamlet says.

Both delaying communication and speaking in haste are dangerous. In her book, It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It, Detz outlines essential communication techniques: For difficult conversations, give yourself a deadline and fine yourself if you don't meet it. One of these days usually becomes none of these days. Did you promise yourself you'd talk with a difficult roommate or colleague this afternoon? Charge yourself for each delay, and send the money to charity. When you have to say you're sorry, remember that apologizing only takes a few seconds and doesn't cost any money. And the sooner you say it, the sooner you'll stop stewing about it. Above all, Detz reminds readers that it's never too late to apologize or say what must be said.

Listening to Colin's coach speak sincerely encouraging words about all 72 of his swimmers and divers blessed not only the athletes but the parents too. The same coach equally encouraged Colin's older brother Tyler, who went on to be a team captain his senior year and a walk-on swimmer at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. This season, Tyler worked alongside his old coach, encouraging Colin and his teammates before and after each event. Words matter. Fitly spoken they are like apples of gold in a setting of silver.