True Meaning: How We Say It Matters

By Stephen Garber

Some hear “happy holidays” as kindness. Others hear it as politically correct pap – insisting we should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” instead. Some just tune it out altogether, along with the music that is everywhere.

Many of us will get very busy preparing, buying, partying and expressing our wishes for the holidays to family, friends and colleagues. Great stuff, right?

We’ll say it to strangers, neighbors and people who help us in our daily lives. It’s great to have a reason to express goodness, kindness and best wishes.

Sometimes, it has deep meaning. Sometimes, it’s just the right thing to say or do. And, sometimes, well, it simply feels empty.

In the expression of our feelings, the words are not all that we have. It’s often much more how we say what we say that makes the difference. Despite the fact that you’re reading this, the written word – particularly emails – can often lose the nuance of inflection, of tone, of the deeper meaning.

Try punctuating this sentence: A woman without her man is nothing

How do you read it? What do you hear in your mind? Generally, research says men will read it one way, as “A woman, without her man, is nothing,” while women read it another way, as “A woman: Without her, man is nothing.”

What does it say to you? Does it say women are nothing if they don’t have a man? Or does it say mankind is nothing without women?

It all depends on how you read it.

As we approach the holidays, we become more stressed in many ways. On top of our daily lives, we all have year-end responsibilities and choices, whether for our businesses or our families. Our family connections are often loving, but sometimes stressful.

Under stress, we often forget our P’s and Q’s. (How’s that for a throwback?) Our manners – our “interpersonal skills” – diminish. We do and say things sometimes that we might regret, or at least wouldn’t do or say if we weren’t under pressure.

Let’s use this time to think about not only what we want to say. Let’s take the time to say it with the true meaning in our hearts: How it will be heard? As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

How we say it – whatever it is that we say – will have the greatest impact on how we make our loved ones, our friends and our colleagues feel. And not only during the holidays, but every day. And, after all, aren’t we happier and enriched when we make others feel better?

Happy, healthy and wonderfully expressive holidays to all.

Steve Garber is director of Third Level Ltd. Contact him at 561.752.5505 or sgarber@thirdlevel.com.

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