The Power of Your Words: Why the Truth Matters

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you careful with your words? What do you think your life would be like if you always told the truth?

Your words—spoken and unspoken—have a powerful effect on you and those around you, yet you don’t often think about this power. Being honest and telling the truth can be difficult. You might worry about being judged, feeling uncomfortable, or facing someone’s anger. But telling the truth is an important part of being an authentic person. Lying requires energy, and when you don’t do it, you can put that energy toward becoming your best self instead.

Keep reading to learn about the power of your words, the benefits of telling the truth, and a process for telling the truth faster.

Words Have Power

The Law of Attraction holds that If we focus on negative ideas, we’re directing energy into making those things happen. To make positive change in the world instead, it’s important to understand the power of your words and speak positively to ourselves and others. Use language that shows:

  • Love
  • Appreciation
  • Support
  • Possibilities for the future
  • Acceptance

Ideally, your words should align with your purpose and values. For example, if you hope to inspire self-confidence in those around you, speaking about yourself in a critical or negative way isn’t in line with your values. If people see you treating yourself harshly, they may do the same to themselves. Instead, adjust your language to align with your values.

Similarly, how you talk about people can alter others’ perceptions of you. For example, if you criticize one coworker in talking to another, the coworker you’re talking to may wonder if you also criticize them behind their back. If they can’t trust you to speak kindly of them, they may not feel comfortable speaking freely or sharing themselves. Aim to use positive language about people—even if they’re not present—to nurture relationships.

Just as speaking in a negative way shapes your life, lying affects your ability to be successful, too. Low self-esteem is at the root of lying: People who lie aren’t confident of getting what they want based on their own merits or they don’t feel people can handle knowing the truth about them. In both cases, lying requires energy to keep track of what you’ve said that you could be putting it toward more positive pursuits.

You can tell that you’re using the right language when you feel physically comfortable and happy. If you feel uneasy, examine whether you need to change how you speak.

The Benefits of Telling the Truth

There are two main benefits to truth-telling:

  • You free yourself from harmful feelings. You may avoid telling the truth because you think you’re sparing the feelings of those around you. However, holding your feelings inside can end up hurting you instead. For example, Canfield does a secrets-telling activity in his advanced seminar, where people are invited to share things about themselves that they think would make others like them less. Not only do people feel relieved to have shared their secrets, they feel increased respect and connection with those around them because they realize others harbor this same fear of having damaging secrets. They even experience physical benefits, like the end of migraines and digestive issues, which they attribute to speaking out.
  • You stop worrying about the judgments of others. You might worry that sharing your feelings with others will make them judge you—they might think something is wrong with you, or that your opinions are strange. Sharing your thoughts and opinions rather than holding them inside allows you to get affirmation or acknowledgment from your peers, interrupting your worries about what they might think of you. More often, people will respect you for your opinions, but you can’t know that until you’ve shared. 

The Truth-Telling Process

To tell the truth, follow these steps:

1. Learn to recognize when you have something to say. Some common indicators are:

  • You feel resentful toward someone. Resentment often means that you need something you’re not getting. When you find yourself resenting someone, ask yourself what you need from them. Then, talk to them as soon as you can.
  • You think you’re protecting their feelings by not telling them the truth. Though this could be true, it’s also likely that you’re doing this to protect yourself by avoiding upsetting the person. More often, this hurts you as you hold it in and backfires later if you do tell the person. For example, you may not have made enough money to finance the family vacation this year, but you don’t want to tell your spouse for fear of upsetting them. If you wait until the planning stage to tell your spouse, they’ll likely feel upset that you didn’t tell them the truth sooner.
  • You’re waiting for the best time to tell the truth. There isn’t a perfect time to tell someone the truth. Instead of worrying about when to tell someone something, make a plan to talk with them as soon as possible so you can move on.

2. Decide the purpose of your expression. Generally, there are two purposes to truth-telling: Expressing yourself and/or solving a problem.

3. Arrange enough time to have a conversation. For example, if you need to talk to your boss about something that’s bothering you, don’t try to catch them for five minutes at the end of a meeting if you need 30 minutes—schedule as much time as you need.

4. Prepare for the conversation. You may feel nervous during your meeting, so plan your main points to ensure you say what you need to say. 

5. Ask the other person how they see the situation. You may worry that the other person will feel a certain way upon hearing the facts, but you can’t know for sure without asking them. This allows them to share their point of view rather than leaving it to your imagination.

6. If you’re looking for a solution, ask what they’d like you to do to resolve the situation. Write down what you’ll do to resolve it and what they plan to do. For example, you might talk to your book club about not getting enough time to discuss the book due to spending time catching up about your lives. One solution might be to agree to limit personal catch-up time to 10 minutes at the beginning of the hour rather than letting it go unchecked.

Improving the Direction of Nike: Marilyn Tam’s Story

Marilyn Tam heard that Nike was dissatisfied with how their shoes and clothing were being displayed in sporting goods stores. Nike planned to hire someone to help with the roll-out of stores dedicated exclusively to its own products. Before the interview, Tam visited a local sporting goods store to look at how Nike’s products were being displayed. She thought the footwear was top quality and priced well, but noticed that the quality of the apparel was inconsistent: Product sizes and quality varied widely and different pieces weren’t color coordinated. At the time, Nike was going through some growing pains: It had begun as a shoe company and added clothing because of popular demand. However, the company purchased the clothing from a variety of retailers and put their logo on it rather than making it themselves. 

Two hours into her interview, Tam decided to tell the CEO, Phil Knight, what she thought he needed to do to fix the clothing problem despite the risk that it could upset him. Her comments essentially ended the interview, but two weeks later, Knight contacted Tam to tell her she was hired. He had listened to her advice and wanted her to lead the company in rolling out a new line of Nike-made apparel that was consistent with the quality people associated with the company.

The Power of Your Words: Why the Truth Matters

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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