By Deborah Gantos

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Some of you may remember this old nursery rhyme. When I hear it, I think of the times when I was in elementary school, when kids would make fun of other kids. Anyone who was not like the accepted view held by their peers was ridiculed, taunted and sometimes even beaten up. I remember one little girl in my kindergarten class whose name was Shelley. She was called Smelly Shelley. There was a reason they called her that, because Shelley did not bathe regularly. She also wore dirty clothes, did not brush her teeth and she wore very thick glasses. But that was a cruel way to humiliate and destroy a fragile young child’s view of herself.

Can you think back to your grade school years and remember a similar story? Perhaps it was you, because no one grows up or matures unscathed by thoughtless and hurtful names and words directed at them. Maybe you might have been one of the kids who called others names. This observation is not meant to make you feel guilty or ashamed. We certainly have way too much of these two things in the world. The emotions of guilt and shame are just as destructive as words can be. However, guilt and shame, like most things, have a positive and negative side. If we commit harmful actions, those feelings can inspire us to make amends. However, hurling obsessive blame on ourselves can cause just as much destruction as those harmful actions can cause. The point of all these examples is to encourage you to think about how words, either spoken or unspoken, can wound us and affect our quality of life.

Now let’s move on to the present. Take a moment to think about your life right now. Be an observer for one day on the interactions you have with other people. How positive are these communications? Do you think about what you are going to say before you say it, or just let the words spew out? Remember another saying: “I just tell it like it is.” This saying really needs to be analyzed. Would you like someone to say things that may be wounding to you? Unless you are a masochist, I think your answer would be no. Again, self-blame is not the answer. This analysis of your exchanges for a day is to create awareness. Once you are aware, you can change your behavior.

So how do you change your behavior? This step is not easy and requires a great deal of practice. After you have had a conversation with someone, go back to your office or find a private place to write down your observations. Pretend you are an impersonal, professional observer who will give you feedback on the exchange. Some questions to ask yourself are: What words did I use to convey my ideas? Were they phrased in a positive way? What was my tone of voice (calm, angry, condescending?) Did I use “I” statements rather than “you” statements? Example: “I really need you to come to work on time because we have so much to do.” Instead of: “You are always late and you make me do extra work!” These are just a few suggestions. You can find much more online on communication and assertive behavior.

What you are trying to achieve is to improve your communication skills, which in turn, can improve your relationships and quality of life. Wouldn’t you like to be happier and more satisfied with other people in your life? You will no longer throw sticks and stones and will be able to defend yourself if someone hurls them at you.

Deborah Gantos is the Editor-in-Chief at Surplus Today Magazine.