Positive Speech – Not A Resolution. A Decision

Gossip is like a fired bullet. Once you hear the sound, you can’t take it back.” – Paul Myers

Each of us is born with – and develops over time – a set of traits that make up our character. Some of these traits make us more effective; others not so much.

Fortunately, as human beings, we can consciously work on ourselves in order to master positive traits, thus becoming more effective both personally and professionally.

One such trait is positive speech; in this context, speaking positively of others! And while many traits are important, without this one your level of effectiveness can simply never come close to reaching its potential.

To speak positively of – and to – others is to build them, to uplift and encourage them. Please understand, we are not dismissing the necessity of correcting others when that is appropriate. Though, even then, we can typically do so with tact and empathy. The person who takes pride in being “brutally honest” is typically much more interested in being brutal than in being honest.

What we are really discussing is the general theme of speech that leaves our mouths whenever we open it long enough to speak.

Speak positively to others and about others and you’ll create a benevolent context of goodwill that makes you more influentinal, more persuasive, and will generally take you much further than if you habitually speak the negative, including…

Gossip – The Worst of All Speech

A 19th-Century folktale entitled, “Feathers in the Wind” reads as follows:

A young man had been slandering the town’s wise man. One day, realizing the harm and hurtfulness of his actions, he asked him for forgiveness. The wise man, realizing the young man had not really internalized the gravity of his transgressions, told him that he would forgive him on one condition: that he go home, take a feather pillow from his house, cut it up, go the edge of a cliff, and scatter the feathers to the wind. After he had done so, he should then return to the wise man’s house.

Though puzzled by this strange request, the young talebearer was happy to be let off with so easy a penance. He quickly cut up the pillow, scattered the feathers, and returned to the house.

“Am I now forgiven?” he asked.

“Just one more thing,” the wise man said. “Go now and gather up all the feathers.”

“But that’s impossible. The wind has already scattered them. There’s no way to retrieve them.”

“Precisely,” he answered. “And though you may truly wish to correct the evil you have done, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers. Your words are out there in the marketplace, spreading hate, even as we speak.”

Right on!

An Admission of Gossip

Yes, I write passionately about this because I am a former gossiper. I used to speak it, listen to it and encourage it in others. I don’t know why because growing up it was not allowed in my home. But, for some reason, it became a habit, and a bad one.

Then, fortunately, while reading a book which made reference to 19th Century sage who’d dedicated his life to eradicating gossip, I suddenly, and with horror, realized that’s what I had been doing. Not only was it very wrong, it had harmed my career, my friendships, and my sense of happiness.

Right then and there I decided to break that habit and replace it with its opposite. It took a lot of work and focus, but I did it. One of the greatest compliments I now often receive is people saying they’ve never heard me “say a bad word about anyone.”

Actually, “never” is not quite true. I haven’t licked the habit 100 percent but I’ve greatly improved. And my success both personally and in business has increased dramatically as a result.

Speech is powerful. And Gossiip (which I define as “the sharing of any harmful or hurtful information not absolutely necessary to share”) is using that power to the negative extreme. There is practically nothing worse and more destructive.

Gossip ruins lives, assassinates reputations, splits families, alienates friends and can tear through a business organization like a cancer.

Instead, do the opposite. Commit to becoming a master of positive speech.

You might want to write down the following on some yellow sticky notes that you can place strategically in areas where you’ll be constantly reminded (i.e., the telephone and your computer):

“Judge the value of my words before I speak. Speak only what may benefit others and myself. Avoid gossip.”

Replace gossip – or any type of unnecessarily negative speech – with positive speech. You need not perfect it right away, or even ever. But, to the degree you do, that’s the degree you’ll find your life to be a lot happier, peaceful and fulfilling.

Wisdom from Don Miguel

In his wonderful book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz makes the excellent point that words are a creative force. He says: “Your word is the power you have to create.” So true, isn’t it? We may initially think the thought, but before anything happens, it must first be spoken into existence.

He writes:

“Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything. Regardless of what language you speak, your intent manifests through the word. What you dream, what you feel, and what you really are, will all be manifested through the word. Your word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life.”

Indeed, with words, we create. And with those words we can create good in the world and/or we can create evil. We can help others feel good about themselves or badly about themselves. The choice is ours.

We create much of our circumstances through speech. Indirectly, we speak our circumstances into existence. As leaders and entrepreneurs, what a responsibility that is. We can actually raise a person up or bring them down…with our words.

But, should it be that others actually give us that power to make them feel a certain way about themselves?

I really don’t know. However, that’s just the way it is. And, like any Universal Law or principle, we can embrace it, or we can deny it, but we can never alter or change it.

Certainly that is so regarding the power of speech. And, with its power, comes great responsibility; both to ourselves and to others.

So, for 2014 and beyond, make a decision – not a resultion but a decision– that, when it comes to speech; what you say to others, and what you say about others, will, whenever possible (and it practically always is), be positive.

How will Bob’s advice change the way you act?

[Ed. Note. Bob Burg speaks at corporate conferences and entrepreneurial events. His books (which include Endless Referrals and The Go-Giver) have altogether sold over a million copies. His newest book is Adversaries Into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion. To get Chapter One, visit www.burg.com]
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  • ELANGWE CHRISTINA

    What a great article on gossip. Good a thing I have come to know of the terrible effects of gossip and I am doing everything to wipe it out of my life

    • Bob Burg

      Elangew: Thank you. So glad to know that you enjoyed the article! And, much congratulations to you for eradicating it from your life!

  • The MSP

    I try (heavy emphasis on the word try) to always remember that one can not build themselves up by tearing someone else down!

    • Bob Burg

      MSP: Awareness is certainly the first step. Huge congrats!

  • Jitin

    Thank you Craig for bringing this article to us and thank you Bob for making it a marvelous essay. I never spent this much of time on any ETR article, taking notes and checking out books suggested. Pure wisdom written with passion. No doubt about that. It being my thought too, to reject gossip, I felt connected. Daily I work on this and has come far now. Truly speaking, it made me happy and rejecting gossip was the first thing that made me realize that happiness is within.

  • Shari Aldrich

    Thank you for the article! I strive to always be positive – but deep down, I know I can do more.

    • Bob Burg

      Shari: Thank YOU. I think it’s a work in progress for all of us who are making the effort!

  • Steve

    Great advice, so simple but so hard to follow because it will take a really big effort to change the habits of a lifetime but I will try!

    • ttcert

      Well said, Steve!

    • Bob Burg

      Thank you, Steve. It is indeed one of those “simple but not easy” things. On the other hand, you CAN do it if you want to badly enough. And, I have a feeling you’ll do it very successfully!

  • ttcert

    Happy to help!

  • Kevin

    A great reminder to us that once we say something it cannot be taken back, deleted or Control Z undone. I will hold my counsel until I have something nice to say. And remember if the other person is saying something bad about someone else, What are they saying about you?

    • Bob Burg

      Kevin: Thank you. Great points, all of them!

  • Bob Burg

    Jitan, thank you for your VERY kind comment. I appreciate you greatly! So glad you found it to be of value and congrats on making some great personal changes!