Simple words leave a big impact

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I had the pleasure of listening to a motivational speaker earlier this week who stressed the value of encouragement over criticism when teaching young people. It was a reminder that what you say is not as important as how you say it.

“You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” is how it was always said growing up in my family, but the same core principle applies. The way people respond to something can be drastically altered by the way the message is delivered.

It’s the difference between ordering someone to do something and inspiring them to do it.

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Whether positive or negative, small words can leave a lasting impression on a person regardless of their age or how tough they are. When I was 11 or 12, I had a friend who tried out for a junior high school soccer team. He played poorly, and the coach told him to never set foot on his field again. My friend didn’t even show up for the second day of tryouts, and as far as I know, he never touched a soccer ball after that.

Years later, the same coach had moved on to coach at the local high school and was struggling to find dedicated, capable athletes to help his team.

Walking the hallways was a familiar, physically gifted high school senior that he had criticized into an early soccer retirement seven years earlier. My friend was now one of the fastest, strongest students in the entire school and had received scholarship offers for his football performance. With any amount of belief or encouragement at age 11, there is no telling the difference my friend could have made for that coach years later.

Nobody ever knows what would have happened with situations like this. What we do know is that enthusiasm was extinguished by a simple gesture from someone who did not understand the power words could carry.

“Encourage me, and I will not forget you,” were the words the speaker closed with, quoting author William Arthur Ward.

Using that logic, my friend forgot that coach a long time ago, but I didn’t.  Sometimes it is important to learn what not to do.