Today, we’re going to dig into words – seven words in particular – and how using them might bring opportunities to different situations in your life. As with all episodes, this is offered as a hopeful hypothesis. Change, of course, is self-initiated and, as the commercials say, results may vary. But change can also be the match that sparks hope – hope for something else, something more, something better.
The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that words unspoken often leave larger regrets than those shared. Now words don’t brush away all the thorns of life, but they can, at times, offer a salve for the soul. And sometimes the impact of our sentiment can leave lasting fingerprints on the recipients.
I’ve been reading the book “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward” by Daniel Pink. He collected regrets from more than 19,000 people (so far) around the world in a World Regret Summary. By understanding what people regret the most, he says, we can better understand what is most valued by people.
In the end, offers Pink, what gives our lives significance and satisfaction are meaningful relationships. But when those relationships come apart, whether by intent or inattention, what contributes to the residue of regret is often the inaction that follows. We don’t know what to say or do so we say and do….nothing. And that sits in our brain (and in our gut) for years to come.
“Err on the side of showing up,” says Pink. “And if it’s awkward, then it’s awkward and you’ll live…But if you don’t show up, it’s lost forever.”
I love that insight. And, you don’t need the threat of regret to have meaningful moments in everyday conversations. Quick, simple shares can have impact in the here and now. In addition to creating or deepening connections, words help you step forward and stand apart.
There’s a great quote that I love that says: Go the extra mile, it’s never crowded.
And that is certainly true of words. So many are available to all of us and so few of us use them to their full potential or use them at full volume.
So, today, I am highlighting a few phrases that you’ve likely used many, many times. My intention is to nudge them forward again as powerful ingredients for powerful conversations.
The first two of the seven words are: Thank You
For many of us, Thank You is used commonly in our everyday casual conversations. We say them in restaurants, in email, in passing, and even nonverbally like the raise of a hand or quick smile at strangers.
But when you slow down those words and speak them directly and with sincerity, they reverberate differently. The other day, my son was sitting with a stack of thank-you cards to send to those who gave him gifts for his high school graduation.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “I already said thank you in person. Why do it again later?”
Okay, it’s a fair question.
An in-the-moment thanks is important as a real-time acknowledgement for the kindness received.
Doing it again, less quickly, that is the extra mile. It says that their time, their effort mattered. In today’s add-to-cart lifestyle, time given is part of the gift. When someone offers you their insight, support, and, yes, gifts, they invested in you. There are so many short cuts available, and they chose the longer route.
So saying thank you is a bright yellow highlighter – quick to use and hard to miss.
You don’t need a stack of cards to send your thanks. A picture, call, conversation – they all express appreciation. It’s not the modality that matters, it’s the acknowledgement of the effort. There’s a difference when thanks is heard and when it’s felt.
When sharing your thanks, be sure to make it a full sentence, or two. Sharing the meaning behind the effort is a gift back to the giver. And thanks are just as important – sometimes more so – in our work life. This is often where so few thank you’s are even offered, so it’s a chance to stand apart.
The next three words that make a difference are: I Love You
Mmm, I know, these are loaded words – and for a reason. Love is one of the most personal – and complex – emotions us human beings experience.
So, let’s scan out and take a look at on a macro scale. The study of evolutionary psychology explores how we humans are hardwired for survival. And while it is possible to live independently, humans have the instinct for attachment not just to survive but also to thrive.
And to reinforce this, feelings of love and attachment have a physical reward. The brain and body share information through neurotransmitters, which carry chemical signals across neurons. Expressions of love evoke feelings. These feelings, in turn, release chemicals like serotonin, adrenaline, and oxytocin. So, these three words pack extra vitamins emotionally and biologically.
Expressing your love to another person is an emotional paper clip, clasping meaning to that connection. At our most basic root, we want to know that we matter. And it matters that we know.
There are many ways for love to be shown but hearing it, however, is the direct line to the heart. Don’t let those words sit unspoken. Their power is in the giving – and their impact multiplies the more they are shared.
The final two words are: I’m Sorry
In our wild and wandering lives, we can strive to be good people while still taking actions that aren’t always good. Of the many regrets people carry in their core, it’s often failures in human kindness – things said or done – that leave the deepest marks.
There are two parts to these two words for you to consider. The first is an apology to yourself. The acknowledgement of what you said or done and the impact that was left as a result. Owning your action (or inaction) to yourself is the foundation of being able to offer the words to someone else.
The second part is offering the chance for the apology to be accepted. It’s an offer because the receiving is up to the other person. Put forward the words – no matter how awkward they come – and look to see if there is healing, for you and, hopefully, for the other person as well.
Why make the awkward effort? Because unspoken words, especially of sorry-es, carry great weight. There’s a quote from American author Zora Neale Hurston which says: “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”
And that’s what “I’m sorry” offers – a chance to have a gentler end to the story – or at least another chapter. It’s not trying to erase or revise what already happened; it’s simply owning the impact and offering a token of your better self.
Seven words. Each with powerful potential.
Thank you is acknowledgement.
I love you is attachment.
I’m sorry is amends.
Pay attention to who came to mind when you heard these words today. It’s better for words to be a little awkward than lost forever.
I hope all of the words offered a pathway on your journey. I hope you also receive them many times in return. And, until next time, I hope you take good care.