“In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.” – Brennan Manning
Seth Godin, who I enjoy reading, once wrote, “If you come to my brainstorming meeting and say nothing, it would have been better if you hadn’t come at all. Not adding value is the same as taking it away.” In Seth’s context, he was writing about business and organizational contribution. But the thought holds true for each of our interpersonal relationships as well.
Not adding value to the people and the conversations around us is the same as taking it away.
For one reason or another, we have been brought into the lives of the people around us. Sometimes we are involved in their lives because of choice (a spouse, a friend), sometimes because of a mutual interest (groups, clubs, churches), other times the nature of our relationship may be out of our control (work, assigned groups). But regardless of the nature of each relationship, we have a unique opportunity to add value.
There is incredible potential in the words we use to speak hope and joy and peace into the people around us. We need to be reminded of this truth often. And it should impact our approach to nearly every conversation we enter into.
Correctly understood, this simple, profound thought calls us to be more intentional, more thoughtful, and more persistent. It calls us to speak joy and contribution into our relationships whenever possible. It invites us to:
Speak with optimism. Optimism always lays a foundation for hope.
Give more compliments. Genuine words of praise are powerful. Yet, too few.
Draw on past experiences. Because of your history, you have learned unique lessons learned in life—some have been positive, some have been negative. But nobody else in the entire world has had the same experiences as you. Draw on them. And when they are helpful, pass along the lessons you have learned.
Learn to listen. Every story is unique. Every life circumstance is different. The first step in adding value to another person’s life is to correctly understand their worldview and situation.
Ask more questions. Asking questions communicates interest, concern, and care. Plus, you can learn a lot about a person by simply letting them speak uninterrupted.
Earn the right to speak. Live an others-centered life seeking to put others first with your actions. You earn a far-weightier right to speak improvement into other’s lives after you prove with your actions that you genuinely desire to help them. Words are cheap. Actions reveal our true motives.
Speak always in love. All truth—even the most difficult—can be communicated with love. In fact, the more difficult the truth, the more love is required.
Our lives hold great potential. So do our words. What you say matters, choose wisely. And speak joy.
Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca says
There is definitely something to be said for listening–it took me years to be able to just listen, without worrying about what I was going to say in response. I’ve found that just nodding, and being attentive often do so much.
Cathy Severson says
Wow, I love that you started off with Seth Godin. He is such an inspiration. There seems to be an undercurrent to be more civil and coming together even if we don’t agree. I read about the living conversations and was so excited about it that I wrote blog post and talked to a neighbor about starting on. This is so cool. Keep up the positive energy.
I disagree with what Seth Godin said. He seems to have no appreciation for the value of silence. Silence keeps words to a minimum, and allows the words that are used to have greater impact. Seth seems to think you should talk for the sake of talking. On the other hand, a person who appreciates silence talks for the sake of communicating. If you have have nothing to say, saying something anyway, does not really add value to a discussion. I’d even suggest that talking without really communicating takes away more from a discussion than silence. Being able to spend time with a friend in silence takes nothing away from the relationship and adds value at a deeper level than those who hinge their relationships on words. Words are over-rated, I believe that silence adds just as much, if not more, value to a relationship as do words.
I agree with the silence. Often I will add only after careful consideration and listening for deeper content. Sometimes people just keep on talking and never stop to listen or engage in actual conversation…as if on a personal soapbox.
I love this list. It’s sometimes hard to really pinpoint the things that make thoughtful friends/communicators stand out.
My favorite is “ask more questions.” When I began to work on my conversational skills, learning to process interests and ask pointed questions are the two things that helped the most. I noticed a huge change in the relationships I developed and the quality of my interactions with people.
Far too little positive attention is paid to those of us who don’t speak up often. We aren’t holding back because we don’t have any value to add, but rather because we wait to speak until we can add value. If I don’t have something meaningful to contribute, then I don’t contribute at that time. There are enough people speaking without saying anything; I don’t need to add to that. You can’t speak and listen at the same time, so please remember that those of us who are quiet are often the ones who are paying the most attention to what is being said at that moment, not to formulating our immediate response.
Joshua’s post was truly an excellent message.
That was all I was going to write until I read Lisa’s comment. I could be wrong, but it sounds like you (Lisa) are an introvert as I am. Your entire comment could have been my exact words. In a world that is mostly extroverted, those of us who are not and don’t speak because we are good listeners and/or are intentionally listening without forming an opinion or a response or a comment are often thought of as non-contributors. I don’t speak just to hear myself or to make sure I’m contributing as expected. I speak when I’ve taken in the information and have something that might truly add to the conversation. Otherwise, just adding to the conversation to “prove” one has something to say and/or to prove one has value – THAT is taking way from the conversation.
Nevertheless, this was truly a very good read. Thanks, as always, Joshua!
Terry Hadaway says
Joy (like stress) is a choice. The world isn’t stressful because stress is a personal reaction to a situation (http://wp.me/p36il6-3D). Joy is the opposite. How we think determines how we respond. When joy isn’t present, our thoughts are to blame. Great thoughts!
Brown Vagabonder says
I have found that speaking joy is harder when you are doing it through our modern means of communication – email. I find increasingly that I have to be careful what I’m saying in an email, as it might be misinterpreted. I check and double-check all my outgoing emails to ensure I do not sound angry or rude unintentionally. Trying to ensure all my communication no matter through which manner is full of joy is of the utmost importance. It is so easy to say something without thinking, and not realize it had a profound impact on the receiver.