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The Power of Words

May 9, 2003
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At the end of World War II, the Allied Powers sent a message to the Japanese demanding surrender. The Japanese responded with the word “mokusatsu,” which translates as either “to ignore” or “to withhold comment.”

The Japanese meant that they wished to withhold comment, to discuss and then decide. The Allies translated “mokusatsu” as the Japanese deciding to ignore the demand for surrender. The Allies then ended the war by dropping the bomb and transforming the world we live in forever.

This is a powerful example of the power of words, understood or misunderstood. Everyday in our small businesses we experience this same phenomenon when dealing with the power of words.

My observations have led me to the conclusion that generally, when people get their own way with others, they do so with words. Words can be used in crafting simple emotional appeals, misleading fallacies, disinformation or misdirection. Among the grouping of powerful words that are used, words of appreciation are the positive ones and produce positive results. Unfortunately, most words are not used in such uplifting ways.

A person may want others to agree with his point of view, or do what he asks and buy what he is selling. From the car salesman’s hard sell, the hammering of television commercials or the relative’s request for a loan, to the doctor’s diagnosis or the child’s pleading to stay up late, the assault of words is continuous in everyone’s life.

There is enormous power in words and what they mean to the person who hears them. Words truly have the power to manipulate other people’s thinking and behavior. Fallacies are the most damaging combination of words used in arguing a position because they are true to an extent, but are usually myths or “urban legends.” Their danger lies in the fact that decisions based on them are not based on truth, logic, legality or right and wrong, but on emotions favoring those who put forth the more powerful arguments. They are designed to benefit someone else.

Just as emotions are constantly changing, opinions and decisions based on them change as well. When unconsciously making choices based on emotional appeals and tricks of logic, one allows others to control his thinking and behavior, setting himself up to be used for another’s interests.

Recognizing these arguments for what they are usually makes them ineffective and powerless. Knowing an argument to be false and self-serving allows one the opportunity to separate emotional responses from the subject at hand, knowing they are not the same thing.

On the other hand, we all too often neglect an overwhelmingly powerful tool that can have very positive effects on those who experience it: Appreciation. Everyone needs to be valued, and it is a tremendous kindness to express appreciation to others. Unfortunately, most people find it easier to criticize and complain than to express gratitude or admiration. People who utilize their powers of speech to enhance the lives of others will not use this power for destructive purposes.

Write short notes of appreciation to as many people as possible as often as you can. Think about the people you take for granted: Your employees, your customers and your peers. People often assume that others realize they are appreciated. But this is not usually the case. Most likely, if you do not express your positive feelings towards someone and their behavior, that person will not be aware of your true feelings. It is tragic how frequently appreciation goes unacknowledged even though it exists.

Always assume that you need to tell someone of your appreciation for him or her. No task, effort, idea or thought is too insignificant for you to express your appreciation for it, and other people will always be grateful for your thoughtfulness in expressing how you feel about them.

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