Building Bridges

Issue # 35 of 43 

David LeClaire
By: David LeClaire

The Power Of Words

What makes the difference between one sports team's inspiring coach versus an opponent's apparent lack of leadership? In the classroom, what makes one teacher outstanding while the others simply go through the motions? What makes one lawyer so convincing in the courtroom compared to their counterpart? Why is one parent listened to and another ignored?

The major tool that all of these people rely upon is their ability to communicate in a manner that impacts on others. Their words not only resonate, create interest, and captivate, but also inspire. It's not the number of words one knows, but how they are used that can separate a person from the masses. Most people believe they have little to learn about communication and in the process they distance themselves from their lovers, alienate employees, discourage their children, bore their students, or deflate the team they coach.

The very nature of most human beings is linked to freedom. We are an animal that does not do well in solitude or captivity. Most resist and resent being ordered, forced, and coerced. If your communication implies that your partner is wrong, or has no choice but to follow your commands, the typical instinctive reaction from your partner will probably be a stubborn and defiant resistance.

Instead of trying to force your partner to change, to talk with you, to help more, or respond in any fashion that you desire, your words can instead motivate, inspire, or persuade. Very rarely can you force anyone to do anything. The only tool you really have is your ability to communicate in a manner that encourages the listener to respond in the manner you desire.

Imagine that your neighbor has a teen-ager who they'd like to have cut the grass. After repeated requests, their son refuses to get off the couch to do the job. The parent could threaten to punish their child by taking away phone privileges, not allowing them to see their friends for a week, or withholding their allowance, but none of these approaches to discipline can provide a guarantee that the grass will get cut. The parent may eventually get their teen to do it by screaming and yelling, but they might find their rose bushes have been run over with the mower as a result. Yet if the parent is persuasive enough, the grass could get cut properly without using blackmail, punishment, or paying their son off. The idea is to communicate skillfully and effectively so the intended result is accomplished (the grass gets cut) without any anger or hostile feelings between them.

The better you are at relating to other people, the better you get at not only seeing the results you desire, but also establishing and maintaining solid relationships that are based upon mutual respect and admiration.

The Importance Of What You Don't Actually Say
All of us send many messages through our expressions, tone of voice, or our posture. Instinctively and intuitively we are usually aware of the messages being sent to us from others. Even when we sense someone doesn't want to talk to us, we rarely think, "I can see they don't want to talk. They are leaning away from me, with their arms folded, and they have been getting restless in the last few minutes." Yet we still pick up the message.

We send an unbelievable amount of unintentional messages to those around us, yet very few of us are aware of the messages we are sending as we are sending them. When confronted with them, sometimes we may become defensive because we "never said that." Since these messages are usually being silently interpreted by another person, non-verbal communication stands the greatest chance of being misinterpreted.

If you are in a long-term relationship, however, give your partner credit for knowing you well enough to pick up on some of the non-verbal cues that you send. If they are wrong about them, simply clarify how you are feeling instead of criticizing them for misinterpreting your non-verbal cues.Chances are good that your partner will pick up on that subtle rolling of the eyes. They will detect the clenched jaw. They may sense your impatience by your restlessness. They've seen you cross your arms before when you were being stubborn! And your partner will probably know that even though you said nothing, your silence may mean you're either angry or wounded.

As the observer of your partner's non-verbal cues, be careful to not make all of your interpretations 'true'. For example, imagine that Dean was talking to his new wife, Marie. As he looked at her posture, he noticed she was leaning away from him, with her arms folded and legs crossed. She was getting restless and was looking around the room quite often. Would it be true that she was finding Dean boring? While those non-verbal signs could suggest that Marie was bored, this interpretation could be completely inaccurate since she may actually just have to go to the bathroom! When you don't talk about what you perceive, you may decide that your interpretation of their actions is true.

If your partner was hurt or upset by what you said, yet you thought your words should not have created this reaction, you may want to ask yourself, "Am I doing something that may be causing this reaction? Is it what I said, how I said it, or my body language?" Arguing about what you said will get you nowhere. Remember, you send countless non-verbal messages without trying to. When someone gets to know you well enough, he/she will eventually start becoming aware of what the non-verbal messages mean that you send regularly. If you and your partner seem to have many misunderstandings, you may need to look beyond just the words that you use to all of the messages you are sending to each other.

David LeClaire has spent much of his time teaching at community college and private school, and lead communications training for Fortune 500 companies. Now a popular and active Seattle area sommelier, this graduate of Central Michigan University led seminars for a wide variety of organizations. LeClaire is the author of "Bridges To A Passionate Partnership." He can be reached at

Building Bridges Table of Contents

Text © 1998, David LeClaire. Part of the original Sideroad.
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