Skip to main content

Harsh Words Are Hard To Heal

Respond rather than react for effective communication

Harvey Mackay headshot
Harvey Mackay
Harsh Words

One summer night at an all-girls summer camp, the campers were gathered in a circle for their nighttime devotions.

The counselor asked if any of the girls wanted to share something that had happened during the day which impacted them. One camper raised her hand and said a girl from another cabin had said something that hurt her feelings, and she was really upset about it.

The camp counselor went to the bathroom to grab a tube of toothpaste, then took the tube and squeezed out just a bit. She then tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube, but it just created a mess. Then she squeezed the tube even more, pushing more toothpaste out and creating even more of a mess, but none of it would go back into the tube.

The counselor told the campers, “This toothpaste represents the words you speak. Once you say something that you want to take back, it’s nearly impossible and only creates a mess. So think before you speak, and make sure your words are going to good use before you let them out.”

Words Hurt

I remember when I was young and kids used to say, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Wrong! I think the saying should be, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can really hurt you.” Words hold tremendous power. They can shatter or make a career, kill or nurture a relationship, or break or heal a heart.

American poet Carl Sandburg said, “Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten.”

There are all kinds of words: words of wisdom, words of encouragement, fighting words, words to live by, foreign words, simple words, big words, naughty words, strong words, last words. They all serve a purpose. Choose the right words for your situation.

Research has found that the people who talked trash about someone else unwittingly painted themselves with the same brush. On the bright side: The same is true when the talk is positive.

Freudian Advice

It’s much better to heed the advice of Sigmund Freud: “Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decision. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.”

In my case, my mother, who was a teacher, set me straight around the tender age of 12. At that time, my idea of a vocabulary upgrade consisted of adding to the string of cuss words I could say without repeating myself. A colorful skill but of limited value in mixed company and it put me at personal risk within the Mackay household.

Over the years, I have learned the value of using the right words at the right time. I choose words every day. When speaking, writing, requesting, and deciding, I use some words and not others. You do, too. The words we choose create meaning and mission in our lives. Every word and phrase you choose convey mood, tone, and meaning.

Remember, customers and colleagues come in every possible stage of enthusiasm, anxiety, understanding, and confusion. Pay attention! When you are offering, asking, responding, explaining, invoicing, installing or advising — choose the words you use with care.

“Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them,” said Andy Rooney, radio and TV personality.

Here are three simple tips to consider:

  1. If you don’t have anything positive to say, it’s better to say nothing at all. Take your emotions out. Too often we want to get our opinions out and slam the other person or try to get even. Social media has really exacerbated this problem.
  2. Be aware of your influence. This is especially true for authority figures such as role models, parents and teachers. Your words mean a great deal. To most people you might be just another person, but to that person you might be the world.
  3. Respond rather than react. Too many people just say things off the cuff and then realize they can’t take them back. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. If you want your words to work for you, work for your words. The result will pay off big time.

Mackay’s Moral: Your words say a lot about you: choose them wisely.

This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine February 2023 issue.
Harvey Mackay headshot
Harvey Mackay
Published on
Jan 30, 2023
More from NMP Magazine
Live Or Die On Day One

The first day is the most important day to reduce turnover

Dave Hershman
Marketers: Bot In To AI

Embrace the opportunities that artificial intelligence creates for content creation

Erica LaCentra
Where Are We Going? ‘Follow The Money’

Or at the very least, follow the moving trucks to see where the money is going

Lew Sichelman


Top 3 Strategies to Make 2023 a Wildly Successful Year

  In this arena, time means money. Spending hours and hours on a 20-page business plan may not be the best us...

Jan 19, 2023
Investor Confidence in Today’s Non-QM And Why Originators Are Paying Attention... A Virtual Town Hall

We host Angel Oak Mortgage Solutions for a special 2021 edition of their virtual town hall series they ran fro...

Apr 08, 2021
How to Help Real Estate Pros in a Post-Refi World

Hear from Melissa Merriman, REALTOR® with The Melissa Merriman Team at Keller Williams, on what real estate pr...

Mar 18, 2021
MBA: Proposed Rule Would Stifle Securitizations

In letter to SEC, MBA says proposed rule on conflicts of interest is overly broad.

Mortgage Applications Rise For 4th Straight Week

The MBA's Market Composite Index increased 2.9% on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Fidelity National Financial To Pay N.Y. $3.5M, End ‘No-Poach’ Deals

N.Y. attorney general says such deals illegally stifle competition and reduce wages.