published Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Did I say that out loud?

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Very few people would agree that words don't hurt. In fact, it has been said that the tongue is like a sword. What comes from it can be deadly: "I hate you." "You make me sick." "You really need to lose some weight. Oh, did I just say that out loud?"

Almost everyone can remember statements made to them in the heat of anger or out of frustration. One grown woman recalled when she was 14 years old, a supervisor told her she was being pushy even though the supervisor had agreed to get back to her with an answer the week before. A man with adult children shared how he is still haunted by the words a relative said to him as an adolescent, "You're no good! You're going to end up being just like your daddy." He has worked his whole life not to allow those words to define him.

Once something has been said, it is impossible to take back. You can apologize and say you didn't mean it, but the words are still out there.

How many of us have spoken disrespectfully to someone on the phone or behind a ticket counter in the midst of a frustrating situation? What statements have you made to your spouse or your children that you wish had never come out of your mouth?

Words are powerful, and they can impact people for life.

Questions to ask yourselF

* How do you talk about your spouse in front of other people?

* How do you speak to your spouse?

* How do you talk to your children?

* How do you talk to your co-workers?

* How do you talk to the clerk at the grocery store?

You can leave a person feeling trampled and beaten down or feeling supported and encouraged even if they are in the wrong.

There is a big difference in saying, "That makes you look like an elephant," and "That isn't your best look."

Choose your words carefully

Here are some things to consider as you prepare for your next conversation.

* Remember what you say and how you say it matter.

* Consider how you would like the conversation to go. Just because someone is condescending to you does not justify you dishing it right back.

* You can be angry, disappointed or frustrated and still be respectful.

* Avoid the use of sarcasm; it isn't helpful.

Communicating well is a skill. Your spouse, children, co-workers and neighbors all have the potential to say or do things that will make your blood pressure rise. Think before you speak, and choose your words carefully. Putting your foot in your mouth is always easier than trying to figure out how to get it out.

E-mail Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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