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Table of Contents

Introduction & Acknowledgements

1: Life is Not a Sitcom

2: Yada, Yada, Yada

3: Treasure Chest

4: Work & Home Survival Guide

5: Success Stories

About Words Can Heal

About the Authors


The Handbook Online

Chapter 3: Treasure Chest

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Awareness is half the

battle. Once you recognize

the power of words, you are

well on your way to

speaking words that uplift

rather than tear down.

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
- Mark Twain

First work on your heart, then on your skills. When you have the desire to speak words that heal, it will naturally start to happen. Then, to become a master, use the tools and techniques to help your mouth do what your heart wants!

Okay, now we get down to business. Seeing the damage from negative speech and hurtful words is good motivation for change, but what we really need is to know how to change!

This chapter gives you tools to help you learn how to use the power of words to create extraordinary relationships. In chapter 4, you can practice these new skills, and then move on to chapter 5 for some inspiring success stories!

You have the power. By changing the words that you speak, you can change your whole life. The wonderful news is: awareness is half the battle. Knowing how powerful your words are, for good or for ill, will help you to think twice before you speak and to say what you mean to say. You will see how avoiding negative forms of speech has a positive impact on all your relationships, both personal and professional.

The future is yours! Itís all in the words that you speak!

1. Think Twice

A mother erupts: "Julie! Get in here right now! Did you color on this wall? You good-for-nothing little . . . ."

But if she thought twice, sheíd take a deep breath, hand the child a wet dishtowel with which to scrub the wall, and say, "Julie, letís clean this together, and it would be nice if you said Iím sorry."

or . . .

A shocked wife exclaims: "Thatís all the money we have left? What kind of husband are you!? You stupid, horrible. . . ."

But if she thought twice, she might say, "I need some water," as she leaves the room to cool off.

or . . .

An employer shouts: "I told you to get that report in by five! What kind of an idiotic failure. . . ."

But if he thought twice, he might say instead, "Is there any way you can finish it tonight?"

It is so amazing how, in a heated moment, it seems as if our words have a power of their own. It seems as if we will burst if we donít say what we feel like saying. The shocking news is that if we wait less than five seconds, the potency of the desire to crush somebody usually passes!

You may still be upset about the issue, and still need to discuss it, but what an awesome gift it is that if you just conquer that five-second feeling, you will save so much anguish.

That old stand-by, "counting to ten when youíre angry," really works. Once said, harsh words can never be taken back, so make it a priority to control your anger.

People often say negative things about themselves: "Oh, Iím such an idiot," or "Figures Iíd do that." This is just as bad as if they were saying it about someone else.

Yelling at someone might get you what you want for the moment, but if you stop to plan what you are going to say, you will have a much better chance of getting what you want both now and in the future. You, and everyone around you, will be much happier.

People often speak badly of others simply because they are angry and venting is the fastest way to relieve their tension. If they managed to keep their anger in check, they would actually get a lot more support from the people around them.

As an alternative to thinking twice, simply walking away is also very effective. With our hectic lifestyles, it actually doesnít come across as rude as it might sound. If you are feeling angry and are about to treat someone cruelly, try to think of something that you have to do right away. This also works if someone is gossiping to you, or if you canít get out of a conversation that you feel is negative or destructive. If you mention an important phone call, a forgotten appointment, or a pot boiling away on the stove, it will seem completely normal to the other person. Even if he or she catches on that you are avoiding the conversation, maybe thatís a good lesson to communicate.

2. Give the Benefit Of the Doubt

Instead of:

"I canít believe Georgia hung up on me! She doesnít care about anybody but herself!"

Give the benefit of the doubt:

"Georgia hung up on me; maybe I was treating her poorly. Or maybe sheís in a bad mood, and my comment was the last straw."

Instead of:

"Juanita took all the leftover food from the party. What a selfish, good-for-nothing. . . ."

Give the benefit of the doubt:

"Juanita must have thought that I didnít want the leftover food. I wish she had asked me, but maybe since she has more kids than I do, sheís better off with the leftovers anyway."

Instead of:

"My husband stays at work just so he doesnít have to help take care of the household chores."

Give the benefit of the doubt:

"My husband is trying to get us out of debt by working extra hard."

The wonderful thing about learning to give people the benefit of the doubt is that you actually start to think differently. Instead of spending your time looking for peopleís faults, you look for ways to see the best in people. That sunny outlook on life will make you a much happier person overall, and your level of aggravation will go down.

If you are in a situation in which you are forced to listen to gossip, do your best not to believe what is said.

Our assumptions about people are often false. Imagine that your friend is an hour late to meet you, so you say derogatory things about her. How will you feel later if you find out she was in a car accident? Giving the benefit of the doubt will help you to think better of others and to act better as well. You also avoid bearing a grudge against someone, saving yourself sorrow and anxiety.

So how do you become someone who gives others the benefit of the doubt? Try to think of five reasons why they might have done what they did. Maybe their actions were not on purpose, maybe their words were quoted out of context, or maybe they had a reason that you donít know about. The next time you think ill of someone, use your imagination. Increasing your sensitivity to others in this way will help you to refrain from negative speech and will help you to be closer to others.

If a friend asks, "Did you hear what so-and-so said about you?" gather your strength and say, "No, but maybe you better not tell me. Itíll only make me mad." This will not only give you a better life, but your friend will learn that this kind of negative conversation is not acceptable to you.

3. Donít Judge, Solve

Instead of judging . . .

"My daughter Bev is so irresponsible, I donít know how sheíll ever hold onto a job."

Solve . . .

"Bev, if you finish your homework on time every night this week, Iíll get you that new sweater youíve been asking for.

Instead of judging . . .

"Arnie the mechanic is a liar; everyone has the same trouble with him."

Solve . . .

"Arnie, can you please put that in writing? I always worry that if a mechanic doesnít do what he says he will do, then heíll start to lose business. And I want you to stay in business so I can come here!"

Instead of judging . . .

"Fred the doorman is so rude! He barely looks up when I walk in."

Solve . . .

"Hi, Fred! How are you? Do you have to work the late shift again tonight?"

Instead of judging . . .

"My friend Alice is so rich! Her motto is, ĎIf youíve got it, flaunt it.í Youíd think sheíd use a little restraint."

Solve . . .

"Alice, you have a lot of old clothes. I know a family that would love your hand-me-downs. Would you mind picking out some items for me to take over for them?"
Speaking negatively about others causes you to dislike them. If you need a reason to be nice to someone, think about the fact that you might need him or her in an emergency one day.

It is a rather enjoyable pastime to sit and judge people all day. It certainly makes us feel better about ourselves. But if we need to put others down to make ourselves feel good, it says something about our own lack of self-esteem.

The best way to raise our self-esteem is not by putting others down, but by doing kind things for people. So rather than judge others, we should try to solve the problem we are complaining about. It will help other people as well as raise our own self-esteem.

Itís much easier to judge others than it is to take action to solve the problem we are complaining about. One way to overcome the urge to judge others is to think how weíd feel if someone said the same thing about us. When we find ourselves about to speak badly about someoneís behavior, we should first consider how we could solve the problem. The next step is to make a plan and act on it.

The great thing about this strategy is that it puts our complaining in perspective. Itís pretty hard to gleefully continue judging others when we know that we should either do something to solve the problem or just keep quiet.

4. Avoid Gossipy Situations

"Excuse me, I need to freshen up my drink."
"I just canít make it to the cafeteria for lunch today."
"I canít talk on the phone right now."
"Iíd love to join you, but I have to get some work done."
"Iím going to be late for an appointment; Iíll see you later."

When itís you against the crowd, the crowd usually wins. Best solution: Ditch out. If youíre not there, you canít gossip, and you canít hear their gossip either!

If someone asks you, "Did you hear about so-and-so?" donít wait to hear what he or she has to say. Reply, "No, but maybe itís better if I donít."

Sometimes we know in advance that a group of friends is going to engage in one big gossip session. They may not intend to gossip maliciously; it might just be ignorance of the damage that negative speech causes. But we donít have to subject ourselves to it. If we fear that being absent will cause the group to talk about us, we have to consider if these are the kind of friends we want.

5. Ask, "At Whose Expense?"

"Yeah, right - letís get Vern to fix the computer; he canít even find his way out of his car!"

When youíre joking around, ask yourself, "At whose expense?" Then just donít say it. Find another way to be amusing that doesnít ridicule someone.

"If hanging around at Devonís place is your idea of fun, you need to get a life."

Many people are cavalier about other peopleís feelings and then they wonder why they are lonely.

"You donít need a ride to the party; you can just roll there!"

Before you say something mean, ask yourself how you would like it if someone said that to you.

"You should have seen how pathetic Janet was! Her hair was a mess, her suit had a stain on it. What a sight!"

Ask, "At whose expense?" What is gained by your comment? Poor Janet, who was having a bad day as it was, now also has two people who think ill of her. What if Janet were your sister? Or you?

A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.
- Jessamyn West

Being the life of the party might be enjoyable, but if the humor is at someone elseís expense, youíre hurting your social life more than you think. Everyone might laugh at your put-downs, but they may not be there for you when you really need a friend.

There is no law that says you have to amuse people all the time. In fact, if youíve set up your life so that everyone expects you to be a stand-up comic everywhere you go, what a stressful life you must have! Get out of such circumstances by finding new friends or by telling everyone youíre going on an insult diet. If you can think of something interesting to say, great. If not, just keep quiet.

Humor might seem to be the oil that keeps social interaction humming. But it certainly has the potential to cause great damage. The problem is that humor is often at someone elseís expense.

Put-downs and wisecracks might be amusing at the time, but these cutting remarks are not forgotten. The victims will often lie awake going over the scene in their minds, trying to figure out what they could have done differently, how they can avoid provoking that kind of comment again, and how they will get over the embarrassment they feel. This is true suffering - being tortured by the thoughtlessness of "trusted" friends.

The three secrets of
understanding your intent.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I saying this for a constructive purpose?
  • Do I have any ulterior motives for saying this?
  • Am I exaggerating or making the issue seem worse in order to add drama and excitement to an otherwise dull story?
When a potential business partnership or marriage is involved, it is perfectly acceptable to divulge negative information in order to prevent someone from being damaged. Just make sure you have your facts straight and donít exaggerate.

6. Say "Someone"

Instead of:

"At the cookout, Meredith was so rude to me. She said my tuna dip was too salty and my pasta salad was nothing special."

Say . . .

"Someone at the cookout was so rude to me. They said my tuna dip was too salty and my pasta salad was nothing special."

This tool will help you to get the sympathy that you need without saying anything damaging against Meredith. Maybe Meredith isnít kind, or maybe she was simply in a bad mood. In either case, spreading gossip about her is damaging.

Instead of:

"Chuck parked his car behind mine and then refused to move it! I was so angry and frustrated, and then Lou came along and said it was my fault for trying to get the best parking space. I could have screamed!"

Say . . .

"Someone parked their car behind mine and then refused to move it! I was so angry and frustrated, and then someone else came along and said it was my fault for trying to get the best parking space. I could have screamed!"

Instead of:

"Terry got caught cheating on the test!"

Say . . .

"Someone in my class got caught cheating on the test."
In a dangerous situation, it is crucial that children know that they must tell a parent what is going on right away. This is not gossip!

The secret to knowing whether an incident that happened to you should be retold or not is to ask yourself honestly: Am I saying this to hurt someone, or to get sympathy or advice?

The beauty of the word "someone" is that you can vent your frustrations without resorting to gossip. The listener can still help you with a problem or make you feel supported without knowing the identity of the perpetrator.

It is often valuable to use real - life examples to teach people, especially children, about human behavior. By using the word "someone," you can explain and create examples without hurting anyone.

When saying "someone," you have to be careful that you conceal the personís identity. If thereís only one cashier at the corner store, saying, "Someone who works at the corner store is an idiot," will not accomplish anything positive. It will be obvious whom you mean.

You will find this simple technique to be a life-saver. It allows you to vent and to get support and advice without causing any damage.

7. Change the Subject

It is just as bad to listen to gossip as it is to engage in it. By listening, we are conspirators in the crime - indeed, it is as if we are causing the speaker to gossip. Not only that, but the gossiper thinks that speaking negatively of others is fine and will continue gossiping to other people as well. We share the blame for the damage that the gossip causes whether we repeat it or not. Just because it is socially acceptable to gossip does not make it right. It just makes it harder to do the right thing.

To stop people from talking negatively to you, simply change the subject. Changing the subject works even if you are the one in the middle of gossiping. Just interrupt yourself and start talking about something else. Here are some examples of changing the subject:

In a therapistís office, everything you say is totally confidential so there is no concern that what you tell your therapist is considered gossip. The therapist is trying to help you with the situation, not cause damage with the information.

We always want other people to understand us and to put themselves in our shoes. How about doing it for others?

To stop another from speaking negatively, change the subject. . .

"I just couldnít believe she showed up in that outfit! She looked ridiculous!"

"Speaking of which, did I tell you about the new jacket I bought? It was on sale and. . ."

or . . .

". . .and then, he came in late and blamed it on me. Can you believe that?"

"I am so sorry that happened to you. Can we talk about something else? This is upsetting to me. How was your trip to the mall?"

To stop yourself from speaking negatively, reconsider. . .

"Did you see how foolish Floyd looked in front of the boss? " Then thinking better of it, - Ah, maybe Iím being too judgmental, I guess it wasnít that bad. By the way, did you read the funny e-mail Barbara sent out this morning?"

or . . .

"Do you know what Mary did to me? - Then thinking better of it, - Oh, maybe it would be mean to say; it really wasnít that bad. Let me tell you what Brent gave me for a birthday present. . . ."
Great minds discuss ideas;

Average minds discuss events;

Small minds discuss people.

- Author Unknown

Changing the subject is a very easy solution to avoid saying or listening to derogatory comments. It also appears very natural to the other person, so you wonít hurt his or her feelings. Conversations are a potpourri of ideas, with people cutting in and changing the subject constantly. Even if it does feel a bit awkward or obvious, that feeling only lasts a second. The good you will be doing will last a lifetime. As you develop the habit of changing the subject to avoid hurting people, it will become easier, and you will likely inspire others to do likewise.

If you are having a hard time getting someone to change the subject, a foolproof method is to ask him or her an open-ended question about themselves, such as, "Why did you move all the way across the country to come here?" or " What made you decide to become a nurse?" If the person answers your question and then goes back to gossiping, simply ask another question. This method usually works like a charm. It will not only get you off a negative topic but will make the other person happy because of your interest. That is genuine bonding.

One very valuable way to change the subject is to defend the gossip victim:

"Every time Sharon comes into the cafeteria, she acts like she owns the place."


"I donít think thatís true. I think Sharon feels self-conscious so she acts aloof to make herself feel more confident."
"Cal always shows up late and never gets his work done."


"I just think heís a bit of a pinch hitter. When it comes down to the wire, Iíve never seen someone as productive as he can be."
"I never want to see Scott again; he never showed up last night and never called."


"Before you jump to conclusions, first find out why he didnít call. Maybe he forgot or got caught up in an emergency."

The beauty of this technique is that one of the main satisfactions the gossiper gets from gossiping is that the listener says, "Oh, you are so right." But if you defend the person every time, the gossiper will soon stop gossiping to you.

Defending a gossip victim is a sure way to deter future would-be gossipers from gossiping to you. What an enjoyable workday youíd have without being distracted all day listening to other people talk badly about others.

By avoiding gossip, you might feel that you will be left out of the loop. But if being
If you gossip about others, how do you repair the damage? By asking their forgiveness, which is not very easy to do. Hopefully, if you always remember that you have to ask forgiveness, it will help you to stop gossiping before you start!
in the loop means having to torture innocent victims and lose the trust of everyone around you, being in the loop isnít all itís cracked up to be. And when someone needs real advice and a real friend, people will turn to you because they know they can trust you not to gossip. You will be able to help people behind the scenes and form genuine bonds.

Now you have a host of strategies to use to avoid negative speech. This is not an exhaustive list, and itís great if you can think of more techniques as well. The key is to have many tools up your sleeve so they are there when you need them.

Advance planning of what you will say and do when someone starts speaking negatively about other people will increase your success rate. Over time, the less gossip you say and listen to, the better your relationships will be.


  1. Think twice.

  2. Give the benefit of the doubt.

  3. Donít judge - solve.

  4. Avoid gossipy situations.

  5. Ask, "At whose expense?"

  6. Say "someone."

  7. Change the subject.


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