How Our Words Impact Others

Our words carry enormous weight. More than we sometimes think. They often impact people for decades, providing the courage to press on or one more reason to give up.

Two Business People Meeting One Another - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #12681402

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When I was fourteen, my family moved from Nebraska to Texas. It was the middle of my ninth-grade year. Junior high is always an awkward time, but the move during this critical year made it even more difficult.

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I remember walking into the school cafeteria for the first time. I was all by myself. The other kids had the luxury of established friendships. I didn’t know a soul. The cliques were already defined.

After making my way through the serving line, I slid into the nearest open seat. The kids at the table gave me the once-over, wrinkled their noses, and then snickered. I could feel my face getting red with embarrassment. I looked down at my food.

Finally, one of the kids broke the ice. “Man! You have one BIG nose!”

I was mortified. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to cry, but I managed a little laugh—like it didn’t really bother me. But it did.

Every day from that point forward, I would look at myself in the mirror. All I could see was that big fat nose. It dwarfed every other feature. I studied it from every angle, but kept coming back to the same conclusion: I was merely a life support system for a nose. It was my defining feature.

Thankfully, I eventually grew out of this perception. But it literally took me twenty years. Even now, I’m a little self-conscious about it.

It just goes to show you how powerful words can be. A careless word can shape—or misshape—someone’s reality for years to come.

I think that is why Ephesians 4:29 is one of my favorite Bible verses:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (NASB).

This verse provides three characteristics of wholesome speech:

  1. Wholesome words build people up. This is the meaning of the word “edification.” It’s the same word from which we get “edifice” or building. Other people, the Bible tells us, are temples (see 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19). As leaders, we have the privilege of co-laboring with God to build these living cathedrals.
  2. Wholesome words are timely. The right words at the wrong time can be just as damaging as the wrong words. Words left unsaid can also be hurtful. As leaders, it takes discernment to know when and if to speak. The right word spoken at the right time can make all the difference for someone.
  3. Wholesome words provide grace. I take this as more than merely being generous or accommodating—though those are both important. I see grace as also the power of God to do His will (see Philippians 2:13). As leaders, our words can either empower people and make them want to press on or diminish them and make them want to quit.

King Solomon said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Every day, we are shaping reality for someone by the words that we use with them. The choice is ours. How will our words impact others?

Question: How have the words of another—positive or negative—impacted your life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Barbie

    What a great article. I have to say that positive self talk has been my demise. I know it originated from someplace when I was very young. But it’s taking me a life time to speak nice to myself about myself.

  • Bob

    I knew of a senior executive, who was told by his boss that in spite of his good work in the organization he should retire as he had crossed 60 years of age. On hearing these words, the ‘retiree’ truly started feeling old and even stopped trying to secure any other job. It was only after he was counselled that he felt he had much more to offer and it was not the time to retire even if he was made to feel ‘old’. This individual now has secured another job and is contributing. I totally agree that words can have a severe psychological impact on individuals.

  • valerie

    Great article! Eph 4:29 is going to be a verse that I memorize. These are good words to live by. One of my former pastors was great at edifying people. He would start with ‘I appreciate …’. His example is something I try to emulate. Thank you, and have a blessed Christmas.

  • another way to look at this

    This is why art is so important to our lives. The movie Roxanne provides many better slurs on a big nose than “Man! You have one BIG nose!”. Though that is actually putting down the person who made the slur, and may not be the best way to deal with the slur, it was humorous. Hearing you had a big nose was a chance to get the kids laughing and make you appreciated. In addition to parents working to build kids’ self-confidence by saying the right thing, they should teach children how to build their own self-confidence: count your blessings, be nice to the kids who are outsiders, smile at yourself in the mirror everyday, be helpful to others, volunteer, learn things. Learn to figure out why those kids showed their own insecurities by making a nasty comment to you, and what you can do to help them.

  • Kris Kelbrants

    My mom often says to me when your eyes sparkle and shine when you’re smiling I know you are truly happy and I know Jesus is shining through your eyes to others. I always think about whether my eyes are shining and I am sharing Jesus with others in that moment. If I don’t feel that I am, I regroup and make sure that I am!

  • Tina Smith

    Words are powerful tools to express ones ideas. I am using a site to mine out new words and I have found it very useful. Since it is beta, it lacks some features but I am sure you’ll love using it.

  • Windi

    I think we all have a self-doubt soundtrack playing in our head. Part of mine was, “You’ll never be a leader.” It isn’t true, but when I am at a low point, those are the first words to come back to me.

  • Tina Smith

    Who says one cannot earn money online with a computer and an internet connection. I joined and would you believe it , I made $2147 in a fortnight?

  • Jennifer DeFrates

    I just wrote about the importance of our words as parents in my blog today. How timely to find this article.