The Weight of Words

A Resolution: What To Consider Before Hitting Send

I remember growing up and seeing these Toledo scales at the grocery store in the produce department.

You weighed your food so you’d know the price to pay at checkout. In the marketplace of words, that weighing process is becoming increasingly scarce. Words have weight and in the end, have impact and sometimes a price. There’s a lot of talk about civility, but whether it’s about politics, personal relationships, or lifestyles we seemed to have lost a basic sense of being respectful to the marketplace of ideas and expression. After all, isn’t that one of the advantages of living and working within a diverse country like America? It’s a reason to make a personal resolution that can make a difference.

I want to just put out there 4 steps of respectful communication that I cannot take credit for, but would like to relay to anyone willing to listen. They come from Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ recent book Before You Hit Send. They are pretty simple and common sense questions to ask yourself about what you’re about to say before you send or post.  Ask yourself:

Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?

Is it clear?

Is it true? This may seem a bit ridiculous to some people, but truth has become a real issue with a lot of what is written and spoken these days. It’s an issue in emailing, social media, blogging, public relations…even the news media has shown in recent years that facts shouldn’t get in the way of a good story, especially if there is an agenda in the works.  This is obviously the most important of the four.

Is it kind?  If you think this is too soft, replace kind with civil at least.  Ask yourself, what is the reason for speaking the truth? Changing people’s mind? Setting the record straight? Defending yourself or someone else? If you speak the truth like you’re a walking hammer and everyone else is a nail, you won’t win too many converts or build your credibility because it’s too hard to get past the blunt force trauma of your attitude. Sure there is certainly a time and a place to be concisely blunt…but if you do it all the time, it loses the effect and fewer people will take you seriously.

“If you speak the truth like you’re a walking hammer and everyone else is a nail, you won’t win too many converts…”

Is it necessary? I’m sure that most people think what they have to say is always relevant, helpful, and concise.  But not everyone needs our assessment of a situation or evaluation of a person’s performance or intelligence.  Sure, there is a lot to be said that is necessary…sharing information and news is beneficial and even critical to everyday life, and yes even our subjective opinion, when shared professionally and with tact, can be of good use. But is it information pertinent to the situation?

Is it clear? This can be a tough one for some who tend to use a lot of words to explain a simple idea. Call it a focus issue or just a style of communication, it remains that taking the scenic route to explain a fairly simple idea or story can confuse people and even annoy them. Focusing on important details people need, makes what you say pop and they’ll get your point most every time.

While our emotions can motivate us to speak our minds, checking the weight of words with just some basic filters, can make a huge impact in the marketplace of ideas and in turn calls people to listen…isn’t that what you wanted in the end anyway?

Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. Since 2012, he has served as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.

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