I have found myself saying this quite a bit lately. When I work with students in the classroom, I always have them "think before they speak". I give them time to think about what they are going to say, before it comes out. I talk to them about the fact that this is an important skill to learn, especially for adults. They chuckle at that one, but it is true. Our words can either lift someone up or tear someone down, regardless of intent.
The thing with words...they stay with us...long after they have been said, long after the speaker has left...they stick. If those words provoke positive feelings, then that is a good thing, a great thing. If they lead to negative feelings (perceived or intended), not so much.
Now, we really have no control over how our words are perceived; as we do not ever know what another person is dealing with, going through, where their mind is, where it has been. The only thing we have control over is ourselves. So I, personally, try to approach every situation, every interaction, with an empathetic heart and mind.
Until very recently, I was not aware that this was not natural to all. It was brought to my attention, a few weeks ago, that someone who is my own flesh and blood, an adult, said they CAN NOT be empathetic. That one knocked me down. What? How could I be so completely opposite? I struggle with the fact that I feel/care too much. I was also hit with the notion that this is a flaw, on my part. Because of my "Pollyanna" ways, I get taken advantage of, used. This may be true, unfortunate, but it is what makes me, me and I wouldn't want to be the opposite.
So, how does this relate to education, to leadership? Well I think it is a big part of both. Most of us got into this profession because we wanted to help people. Ours is a profession of service. Whether we are dealing with students, parents, colleagues, staff, administrators... people...I caution that we choose our words wisely. They have power. The choice is in how we use them. They can open up a door, they can build a bridge or they can lock someone out. What is your intent? Think about this post through the lens of who you can effect on a daily basis.
How does one become a more empathetic communicator? I am no expert, but these are some thoughts that come to mind.
1) Think before you speak: Will what I say help or hurt? I believe in being honest, if it will help propel someone forward. But being honest, just for the sake of being honest can prove to be hurtful. If you need to share your thoughts honestly, think about how you craft those words. It's all in how you frame it.
2) Put yourself in the other person's shoes: It is impossible to know exactly what someone is thinking, going through. But what we can do is assess the situation as we know it. Did this person put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and will your simple words "knock the wind out of their sails"? Is that person dealing with something else? Will your words do more harm than good? Is now the right time to share your thoughts?
3) Think about your purpose: Why are you sharing your words with someone else? Is it to help, to encourage, to hurt, to knock someone down, to get your point across? Why are you saying what you are saying? Is that the message you want to portray to that person?
4) Check your tone: Often times, it is not necessarily your words, so much as how it is said. Here is an example: If someone brings up an idea that you may not agree with it. Do you simply say a stern: NO and cause that person to shut down? Or do you say: "No, I don't agree with that, maybe we can look at it a different way." I know many teachers use sentence frames with their students to help them in discussions, why should those rules of respect go out the window when you are an adult?
I see this in classrooms all the time...Why would we expect this of students and not ourselves?
I heard something on the radio this morning, they said that through their research: the one thing that is missing from many people's lives is simple acknowledgment. We all are doing the best we can, with what we can, when we can, how we can.
How much time or money does it cost to acknowledge someone? And I'm talking about authentic acknowledgement. People know when it is fake. "Thank you for being here", "Looks like you have put in a lot of work", "I appreciate the effort you are making". "Keep it up." "You got this". Simple...powerful.
What if your words, are the only positive words that someone hears that day, that week, that month? Everyone is fighting a battle that we don't know about...because of this, I always try to choose kind. Choose my words thoughtfully, wholeheartedly, genuinely.
Words matter, let's use them for good. Why wouldn't we?
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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