One of my all-time favourite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Its simplicity and the messages contained within are full of wisdom that’s as relevant today as when it was first published over 20 years ago.
Agreement number one states, “Be Impeccable with Your Word”.
When I first read this book, I‘d just become a Dad for the first time and the First Agreement resonated deeply as it reminded me of just how powerful our words are.
When I was growing up, I was often referred to as a “trouble maker” simply because I used to laugh and have (lots of) fun. I was told to “be quiet” and that “you think you know it all!” Unfortunately, the self-confidence and enthusiasm for life that I had as a young boy were often viewed as a poisonous venom. One family member even said to my mum “you need to keep him in check,” as though I were some kind of wild animal. Thankfully my Mum understood me and did her best to channel my energy for life in a positive way.
It would be easy to dismiss these comments as “throw-away” and “harmless”, however it has been proven time-and-time again that the words we use towards our children directly impact the beliefs and behaviours they develop over time.
The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic. But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you. One edge is the misuse of the word, which creates a living hell. The other edge is the impeccability of the word, which will only create beauty, love, and heaven on earth. – Don Miguel Ruiz
Our words are so powerful and yet we are often unconscious of which ones we choose and how we use them. This applies to the words we direct at ourselves as well as towards friends, family and colleagues. Being more conscious of the way we use our words and the intention behind them can have a huge impact on how life unfolds.
If I asked you to reflect on a time that someone’s words impacted you in a positive way, what moment comes to mind?
Now let me ask you to you remember a time when someone’s words impacted you in a negative way, what moment comes to mind?
Notice how you felt remembering both occasions. How did your body respond? Where did you feel it in your body and how did your energy shift?
Words leave a lasting imprint on us, so it’s vitally important as leaders, parents, peers, friends and partners that we take heed of Don Miguel Ruiz’s advice.
As a leader, your words can be the difference between a new employee “succeeding or failing”. They can be the difference between helping an individual tap into their innate potential or leaving them swimming in a sea of low self-esteem. And they can be the difference between facilitating a powerful board meeting where everyone is in alignment versus the board becoming fractured and misaligned.
How conscious are you of the words you choose?
Let’s explore this a little further …
First, let me make a distinction between ‘speaking with intention’ and ‘speaking with purpose’.
Intention is a way of capturing a feeling, it is how you would like to be received, how you would like to be heard, how you would like to feel and, more importantly, how you would like your audience to feel.
Purpose, on the other hand, is how you want your message to be received or to land. This could be in the form of instructions, a piece of advice or a narrative that you’d like others to engage with or follow. It can be a message that powerfully changes the way someone operates within the system they’re part of.
In short, intention is connected to the feeling and purpose is about the message. When you pair the two successfully together, you have a pretty formidable force.
As an example, a powerful orator like Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind. His words, the purpose behind them and the intention contained within them, transcended the audience and continue to do so today, provoking a powerful reaction in anyone who listens. He spoke from the heart, from a place of love.
As leaders we often place most of our focus and attention on the purpose behind the message we deliver, quite often forgetting about the intention behind what we are saying. We speak from a head space and not from the heart.
“When you speak from the heart, people will listen.”
Let’s look at a scenario that you’re all likely to relate to …
You go home to your partner with an idea or message you wish to communicate. Perhaps it’s an idea on how to change something within your relationship. You excitedly express this idea to your partner and expect a positive response. However, your excitement is not matched. Your partner shows a lack of enthusiasm for your idea and this leads to you feeling frustrated, angry and with an underlying sense of resentment towards them. Can you think of a time this situation or one similar has played out?
You may have experienced something similar with a business partner, co-founder or colleague?
The reason is often that when we’re delivering our message, we’re delivering it from our own perspective and for our purpose - “I think we should do this” and “I think we should do that”. We often forget that the person we’re speaking to is experiencing life from an entirely different perspective. Consider your words. Consider how they will land and how you wish for the other person to feel. This will help you speak with intention and it’s likely your message of purpose may land with the right intention too.
Use language that unites rather than divides, remove blame and criticism of the self, and watch the magic of your words transform your inner and outer world in a beautiful way.