The power of words cannot be underestimated. Our words have the ability to shape our lives and influence our decisions. They can be used to express our feelings or to communicate our thoughts. Words can also be powerful tools of persuasion.
Recently, I was taken aback by the social medial furore over Jeremy Clarkson’s piece in The Sun about Megan Markle. As I read it, my body physically recoiled; I felt disgust and then anger. Anger that someone in his position could think it was acceptable. to write such hateful words in a mainstream tabloid with a daily readership of about 2.3 million.
I have no particular views about Megan Markle; however, the vicious, misogynistic words written about her shocked me. What shocked me even more was that the editors, the people around Clarkson and the organisation he works for all approved this piece and considered it acceptable to publish such hateful words. Free speech is a right in every functioning democratic civil society. But when this privilege is abused, it is a sad day.
Words have the power to whip up emotions. In today’s instant messaging environment, the currency of words has been diluted. People tend to be reactive; they post words mindlessly, without giving due consideration to their impact.
We know that a large cohort of people, including influential politicians, feel that it is fine to write or say whatever comes to mind, regardless of the veracity of their words.
So how do words impact us?
Mindfulness is an excellent tool for cultivating an awareness of how words impact us. Take a moment to reflect on a negative message or email you have received. Bring your awareness to how it made you feel at that time.
Perhaps notice the physical sensations that arise now as you reflect on it. What thoughts and emotions are arising? Words, often without us being aware of it, impact our thoughts, attitudes and behaviours.
So, when someone of influence throws out negative, vitriolic words, these words do not only impact people individually; more worryingly, such words impact society collectively.
We saw this in the case of Donald Trump, who actively peddled negative messages in his attempt to challenge the democratic process. His words had a range of dire consequences that ultimately culminated in the Capitol Hill riots after Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election.
Similarly, we have observed how the Brexiters successfully spread what we now know were mostly false messages but ultimately led to the UK leaving the EU.
We can also reflect on great orators, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I have a dream” speech; such words can have a lasting positive impact. The words in this speech are clear and simple, yet they deliver a powerful message – a call to end discrimination. These words rallied the masses, lifting people up and guiding them to work towards a common goal. They also galvanised support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. To this day, King’s words continue to have a positive impact on dismantling racism.
Taking responsibility for the words an organisation allows to be published in its name is a continuous process. The intention is to ensure that the messages published and words spoken align with the company’s mission, which is essentially the business’s raison d’être.
How an organisation communicates with stakeholders reflects the values that underpin that organisation’s culture. The culture of an organisation is represents a system of beliefs and attitudes that ultimately guides how employees behave and interact. Your organisation’s culture reflects how employees interact with each other and what kind of working environment it provides.
So when an organisation like The Sun, which is owned by News Corp, approves a piece like Jeremy Clarkson’s op-ed, what does that say about the organisation’s values and its opinions about woman, woman of colour or simply a strong woman who is not afraid to challenge the status quo?
The words an organisation allow to be communicated under their name can demonstrate how a business operates and highlight its values and culture. So what better way to promote your business than by ensuring that the messages and words your business promotes mirror what the business stands for?
How to promote mindful communication?
Mindfulness training fosters authentic and impactful communication. This training cultivates employees’ awareness of the impact of their spoken and written.
Creating awareness of the impact of words provides a great starting point for promoting a mindful approach to communication within your organisation. In an era where instant messaging and live commentary are the norm, there is a greater need for restraint, for managing the urge to react.
Recently, a participant shared a story about a change in behaviour she noticed as a result of mindfulness training. She received a confrontational email. Before participating in the mindfulness training, the urge to fire back an emotional response. would have won. However, a reflective pause gave her a broader perspective on the problems this approach would cause. Her efforts to weave mindful pauses into her workday gave her a broader perspective and enabled her to respond wisely. She is certain that this pause saved her a lot of time, energy and money!
Training employees to communicate mindfully builds connected, innovative teams. It helps employees feel safe challenging unhelpful behaviours within a team, and it helps individuals and teams become more aware of their habitual and sometimes unhelpful ways of communicating. This awareness allows room for choice. It enables us to activate the pause button and briefly reflect on the intended consequences of the words we say or publish.
Building mindful communication skills through a consistent organisational approach to mindfulness training establishes a solid communication framework in which the impact of words are understood and in which words are used in a way that supports the business.