The power of a single word is immense. Sometimes that power is taken advantage of, and other times it is forgotten. But our awareness, or lack thereof, doesn’t matter. The power remains.
We use words to hurt each other and to build each other up. We use words simply as filler to escape an awkward silence. But again, the power of those words remains, despite our intentions.
I learned recently how the power and choice of a single word can transform a well intended suggestion.
There isn’t much to the story. It was a normal Saturday morning with a grumpy, teething, 20-month old baby hanging on his mother wanting to breastfeed for the tenth time in three hours. Mom was losing her patience and I felt like I had the solution.
“Why don’t you take him for a walk.”
That was it.
But, one word in that sentence set the wrong tone. Instead of “why don’t we…,”I said “why don’t you…,” even though I meant for us both to go. I even put my shoes on, went outside and got the stroller ready while I waited for my wife to change clothes.
The problem was that she didn’t know my intentions. She took it as a condescending remark from an unhelpful husband.
To be fair, she wasn’t raising a fuss about this remark. But I could tell something was bothering her so I poked and prodded until she told me. I could have let it go but I can’t stand not knowing what the problem is when it’s obvious that one exists. I’m working on that.
There are three lessons I learned here.
- Communicate your intentions clearly.
- When your partner is clearly stressed/frustrated by a situation it may more helpful to offer to remove whatever is causing the stress from the situation, in this case the baby, rather than standing in the doorway, eating a sandwich, and telling them how to be a parent. I could have offered to take the baby for a walk myself or I could have expressed my intentions more clearly by saying “we” instead of “you.”
- Sometimes you have let things go. My wife was clearly bothered by the comment, but she was also frustrated by a difficult morning with the baby. She probably would have gotten past it all in a few minutes if had I let her. Instead, I forced her to tell me what was wrong so I could analyze the situation. It made things worse. I could have just let it go.
The power of a word is important to understand and the ability to harness that power to clearly communicate your intentions is priceless.
I learned a lot about that in this situation. But it was all just a catalyst for my main takeaway: I will be much happier (as will the people around me) when I am able to just let the little things go.