Ep. 128 – The Power and Influence of Words

Welcome to our podcast listeners, wherever you might be in the world today. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host with Becoming Your Best, Global Leadership.

Think of one of the most amazing books you have ever read!  What sets it apart from all of the others?  Well, it’s the words!

And, imagine an incredible speaker or comedian.  Aside from their unique presentation, it is the words that gives them passion to make a difference. They’re put together in the right way that make us laugh or reflect upon a play or movie that you have been to or seen, it is the words that also really penetrated your soul in a way you can never forget.

I mean, just think about Mary Poppins:

Even though the sound of it
Is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You’ll always sound precocious

Who could ever forget that one or “A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down!”

Or how about John F Kennedy? “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!”

Or Martin Luther King, “I have a dream…”

Yoda:  Do or do not!  There is no try!

So, think of the words that have influenced your life:   I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can, I know I can…., I knew I could, I knew I could, I knew I could.  This little phrase from The Little Train that Could has lasted with me for all these years.


Today’s podcast is about the use of words, which is wonderfully exciting and a mind-blowing part of Principle #7 of The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders, and this particular one is: How to be an effective communicator.

Words happen to be a huge part of communication. So, what’s really the vision for using words?  Well, they allow us to both communicate and understand in a way that inspires and impacts both your behavior and the behaviour of others.

So, words really do provide you with the capacity to articulate even your own personal vision, just think about that. Which in turn can affect your thoughts, your actions, habits, character and ultimately your destiny.

So, if there was ever a reason to work on your good, better and best in an area, your use of words is it!  So, whether you are 20, 40, 60, or 80 years old, our words, and in turn, our actions really define who we are.

As a matter of fact, talk about being self-conscious of something, my capacity to do this podcast is limited or enhanced by my use of words.  Yikes—what a responsibility.

And as we reflect on The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders, these principles are ever vibrant, fresh and they NEVER get stale or old.  Each one is an inspiration that lifts us to new heights.  However, when they work together, all 12 together, magic happens.  A chemistry of excellence is released.

So, Principle #7 is, of course, to be an effective communicator.  Our capacity then, to use these words, really effects our capacity to communicate well.  And so to improve in this area is an exciting, wonderful, breath-taking journey.

Today, actually, it would be so fun to be together, to discuss and brainstorm these in person. To share our thoughts on ways to use words better.  And so, I will imagine that your thoughts and contributions in our discussion are a vibrant part of this podcast today. In the absence of being together, let’s just share some of the things we might have discussed in the form of a word checklist of things that you (we) can do to enjoy this expansive journey that has such a big impact on our lives.

We could talk about language and words:  So let’s start out by listening to this one. Diane Setterfield from The Thirteenth Tale.

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
― Diane SetterfieldThe Thirteenth Tale

Wow! Words are so cool and so inspiring. Whether you are communicating with a large group, small group, or one-on-one, the words that you use make all the difference in the world.

To stimulate our discussion, I have identified 6 different dimensions of the “word checklist” that helps you in Becoming Your Best in this area.

Let’s dive right in this! Here is the first one of the checklist that helps us become our best through the use of words:

1.Increase Your Vocabulary: Increasingly your vocabularly is a huge predictor of success.  You can practice new words that you don’t use – really, everyday. Some years ago, as a father who wanted to help his children, I became aware of an institute called The Johnson O’Connor Institute, Test. It’s located in different areas of the United States and this is something – it’s about a 5 hour test and it accesses your capability, among other things, your vocabulary as well. And so, we have sent different of our children to this in San Francisco. I actually accompanied them. And after the 5 hour test, an assessment result is given to you which is probably about 20 pages. It’s terrific! But then it focuses in on vocabulary! And so, Johnson O’Connor has done a huge amount of research in this area. And particularly the studies have focused on the impact of vocabulary on people’s lives and has drawn many amazing conclusions from a vast amount of testing and experiments performed in more than 20 years of research. A significant part of Johnson O’Connor’s research observed successful people in many walks of life and really trying to correlate their success with factors such as gender, age, scholarship levels and many others including vocabulary levels. He tested people on the most diverse endeavors like the students about to take their SATs or executives in large corporations, coaches, teachers etc.

He always found the same results, no matter which area he looked at, and no matter how he analyzed the data: a person’s vocabulary level is the best single predictor of occupational success.

He actually did a study with managers in 39 large manufacturing companies. Below are the average results of an extensive vocabulary test, averaged and grouped by hierarchical level:

*Chart described in podcast for visualization purposes.

O’Connor really took extreme care to statistically isolate variables that could distort the results. So scholarship level and age, for example, were considered to make sure it was indeed vocabulary, and not something related, that correlated with success.

And so ultimately, here is the deal. He discovered professional success depends entirely on thinking and communication skills which are directly related to vocabulary. That was the bottom line. I love this quote from Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science.

“A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.” 

― Henry HazlittThinking as a Science

So this is a huge part of a checklist in strengthening our capacity to use words is to build a strong vocabulary.

Here’s number two:

2. Make your words come alive. Words that breathe – color, imagery, smell, texture, feel, energy and emotion. For example, Zig Ziglar, who’s spoken a number of times at our company seminars and he would say:  People refer to money as cold hard cash.  “It is never cold nor hard.  It is soft and warm.”

We can use similes and metaphors. Here’s one for example: Her tears were like a rushing river. Well, what a great simile! Because it compares someone’s tears with a rushing river. A person’s tears can’t literally be like a rushing river, but by saying that the tears are like a rushing river, you’re conjuring up an image in the individual’s mind, that’s listening to you or reading what you’ve shared, of how much someone is crying.

Or her heart broke like glass! See what an image that creates?

Or the young man trying to remember his father’s advice on a blind date and paying his date a compliment.  He could have said, “Your face could make a clock stop”.  Or, he could say, “Your face makes time stand still!”

Well, these are tremendous images that help us see things. How about this Primary Song that I learned this when I was 8 years old.

I looked out the window, and what did I see?
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree!
Spring has brought me such a nice surprise,
Blossoms popping right before my eyes.
I could take an armful and make a treat,
A popcorn ball that would smell so sweet.
It wasn’t really so, but it seemed to be
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree.

Isn’t that great? Well that’s a good example of using words in a way that makes things come alive! Of course there’s no popcorn on an apricot tree, but you can see it in your mind! You can see the beautiful white blossoms on an apricot tree – you can almost smell them and it connects you to Spring and the surprise and you want to go out and take an armful and what smells so sweet. This is an idea of using words in a way that they bring things to life.

Here’s number 3 on our word checklist of things that we can do to use words better:

3. Use words that are kind, uplifting, and encouraging. Never mean, degrading, and discouraging. Find something good to say about others.  Especially in their absence.  Think how much better the world would be if we were all kind to one another.  That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree and have differences, different points of view, but just imagine what kind of world we would have if EVERYONE were uplifting in their comments about others. They found the good. The change in a world starts with you and it starts with me. We can do this and it spreads. Here’s a great quote by Vashti Quiroz-Vega.

“Words! What power they hold. Once they have rooted in your psyche, it is difficult to escape them. Words can shape the future of a child and destroy the existence of an adult.
Words are powerful. Be careful how you use them because once you have pronounced them, you cannot remove the scar (or I might add, the blessing) they leave behind.”
Vashti Quiroz-Vega

Well how true. Here’s another one from Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute The Sun. This is an amazing one:

“We cannot control the way people interpret our ideas or thoughts, but we can control the words and tones we choose to convey them. Peace is built on understanding, and wars are built on misunderstandings. Never underestimate the power of a single word, and never recklessly throw around words. One wrong word, or misinterpreted word, can change the meaning of an entire sentence – and even start a war. And one right word, or one kind word, can grant you the heavens and open doors.”
― Suzy KassemRise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

So there’s three that we’ve talk about on our checklist.
1. Build your vocabulary
2. To make your words come alive
3. Use words that are kind, uplifting, and encouraging. Never mean, degrading, and discouraging.

So we ask ourselves then, what can we do next to build our capacity to use language?

4. Be sure to use your spellcheck and good grammar. There are a few things that really distract more from a well meaning letter or communication than words that are spelled incorrectly or they may not be in the right order.  Read over your document several times to assure accuracy and, in really important documents, have others read it as well to give you a check and a balance. That’s a great tip for us.

5. Use words that are positive and upbeat. Watch the impact words have on your thoughts and feelings. I’m going to use an example from a book that was a huge inspiration to me, especially in my youth and early 20’s. I read the book The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz numerous times. On page 68 in that book, he uses this example of phrases which create small negative images versus phrases which create big, positive mind images.
I’m just going to give five examples that he used in the book. It will give a feel for it. But they are important to discipline ourselves so we’re really using the big, positive mind image type words.

Phrases which create small negative mind images Phrases which create big, positive mind images.
1.  It’s no use, we’re whipped. 1.  We’re not whipped yet.  Let’s keep trying.  Here’s a new angle.
2.  Five years is a long time to spend before I’ll get into the top ranks in your company.  Count me out! 2.  Five years is not really a long time.  Just think, that leaves me 30 years to serve at a high level.
3.  It won’t work. Dark, gloom, disappointment, grief, and failure. 3.  It will work, let me prove it. The image:  Bright, hope, success, fun and victory.
4.  I’m too young (old) for the job. 4.  Being young (old) is a distinct advantage.
5.  The market is saturated. Imagine, 75 per cent of the potential has already been sold.  Better get out. 5.  Imagine! 25 per cent of the market is still not sold. Count me in. This looks big!


As we think about this thought of using words that are positive and upbeat – Think good words. Use good words.  Use good language versus bad language. 

I will never forget when I heard the tapes of one of our President’s of the United States.  I could not believe the foul language that was totally unnecessary. What a disappointment that was.

My friend, Stephen Covey, who had, one of his trademark was a shaved head, would often say, why waste hormones on growing hair when you can use them on good looks.  😊

Well this was another way of saying – why waste time on unsavory language, when you can focus on good language, things that are upbeat and positive. Because so often, when we are using language to the opposite, it’s an expression of frustration, of wasted time. And so this is a way that we can really use our language to a better use in a way that puts us in a better place.

Here’s number 6:

6. Use words to be a captivating and tell interesting stories.

To be an interesting story teller. People love stories. So, think about it. What are some of your favorite stories.  How about TRUE stories from your own life?  Share them with others, write them down, learn from them and in many cases, you will have fun time with them, as will others. We can learn great wisdom from our experiences and we know them in total detail in smell, in feel and what it was like and what we learn from it. But let’s not forget that these may also be a benefit for others. I’ll just share an experience that I had when I was 17 years old. I happened to be a senior at Vallejo high school on the baseball team. Our baseball team was an extraordinary baseball team. They were very successful, one of the best in California. I guess I was 16, I was a junior and I was working hard to get into the starting rotation. Mid season, I worked my way into starting – I was both a catcher and played outfield and so we had a great catcher so I was played in left field. We were battling with Napa High School for first place. They had a couple of players that became future professional baseball players. One played for the Mets, another for another team. They were good. The Buckner boys. So, this particular day, a game was being in the evening. Left field was facing the setting sun and so I was on the east side of the field looking directly west as the sun set. There was a man on 1st, it was the 5th inning and Billy Buckner got up and I couldn’t wait for things to get going here. I’m ready to make it happen. We had a good game. We were ahead, by the way, 3-1 at this time and excited. Billy Buckner hit a long fly to left field and it was a high fly. I was ready for it. I put up the glove as I was taught to do to block out the sun when the ball gets into the sun and you can’t see it coming. So you theoretically put your glove up there, block the sun right where the ball’s at and you catch it. Well, this particular day, it didn’t quite work out that way – I put up my glove and I was off by a couple of inches. The ball came right over my glove, hit the top of my head and scooted off as a high rate of speed right behind me and I turned around and chased it down but by the time I could throw it in, it was a home run and the score was tied. I was devastated. I felt terrible. And so we got up and ready for the next batter and the next batter came up and hit a line drive down the left field line and it was one that I thought I could have a shoe string catch on the fly and make the out. And so I was giving a 100% effort, full speed and I reached down to catch it and the ball bounced three inches in front of my glove, straight over my head. I turned around and ran after it full blast. By the time I threw it in, it was another in the park, home run. The score was now 4 to 3, and now tears are going down my face. I’m praying, “Oh Lord, please do not let them hit another ball into left field.” Oh, well there was two outs and the next hit was into left field, fortunately I was able to make the out and the side was retired. Of course I had to return to the dug out and face my team and my coach. My coach was just shaking his head down at the end of the dug out – I don’t think he’d seen anything like that. I happened to be the next batter up, so things could get worse – in this case they didn’t, I did get on base, but we lost the game. Well, there we go! What did I learn from that? Well, I learnt a lot of things from that. First of all, you don’t give up. Things will work out.  Better days will come, even if we have a bad day.

The next day at baseball practice, the team presented me with a hardhat with a glove taped to the top of it. Well that’s the way it goes. Well this is a great story and a great memory for me. I can still see the baseball field, I can still smell the grass. I can still see the dirt and it lives on. Well this is a story I’ve shared with our children occasionally and it was a great learning experience for me.

So there you have it! That’s just an example of how we can use words that might be interesting and might be captivating as we become story tellers to teach important principles.

So, here we have it. That’s our 6 word checklist, that we might think about that helps us use words better.

Conclusion:  Here is your 6 word checklist.

  1. Build your vocabulary.
  2. Use words that live! Popcorn popping on the apricot tree. Bring em alive!
  3. Use words that are kind, uplifting and encouraging. Never mean, degrading and discouraging. Speak to people well wherever you might be! Find the good. These words will bless lives versus tear them down.
  4. Use your spellcheck and work on good grammar.
  5. Use words that are positive and upbeat that create positive images and ultimately actions within our lives that leave good behind us so we focus on high efficiency in effectiveness in using positive good words.
  6. Use words to be a great story teller: To teach principles and to communicate.

Well here’s my invitation to each of us today:

What can you do in order to make these a bigger part of your life? To use words so that we can be an effective communicator. Well one of the things – the actions that you can take, and this is my invitation for us today, you can invest in and regularly study Becoming Your Best, The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders. If you do not have a Becoming Your Best Book yet, I would recommend that you invest in one.  And that you should take 5-10-minutes to review the principles and go through them. What will happen is that this will help you be in the upper 5% of leaders anywhere as you start mastering these 12 principles because that’s what we discovered in our 40 years of research of what sets apart high performers, the best leaders in history, from everybody else. It is these 12 principles. So, not only invest in one yourself and regularly study it, also invest in Becoming Your Best as a gift to family members or a fellow worker. Because they will have the same type of experience and maybe one other action that you can take, is within your families and organizations, share one principle per week. You can assign out who will teach the principle. But you just take 5 minutes and have one person share the principle then the next week, another person will share or teach the principle. If you do this, at the end of 12 weeks, you can step back and evaluate how you did in the 13th week, and then start over again. 13 x 4 is 52 weeks! It means that you can work on these wonderfully powerful principles, that will lift your life, for the rest of your life.  As we master them, these create a light within us of effectiveness, a chemistry of excellence, that radiates without and touches everyone. Well we wish you the best, as you work on using words effectively! May this 6 word checklist be a blessing to each one of us. Never forget as you do this that you are making a difference every day of your life. This is a great way to focus on becoming your best. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best – Global Leadership, wishing you a great day!


Source Material:

“We live and breathe words. …. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted–and then I realized that truly I just wanted you.”
― Cassandra ClareClockwork Prince

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can bring tears from the hardest hearts.”
― Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind

“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
― C.S. Lewis

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein



“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.”
― Confucius

“Words… They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.”
― Tom StoppardThe Real Thing


“Words! What power they hold. Once they have rooted in your psyche, it is difficult to escape them. Words can shape the future of a child and destroy the existence of an adult.
Words are powerful. Be careful how you use them because once you have pronounced them, you cannot remove the scar they leave behind.”
― Vashti Quiroz-Vega


We cannot control the way people interpret our ideas or thoughts, but we can control the words and tones we choose to convey them. Peace is built on understanding, and wars are built on misunderstandings. Never underestimate the power of a single word, and never recklessly throw around words. One wrong word, or misinterpreted word, can change the meaning of an entire sentence – and even start a war. And one right word, or one kind word, can grant you the heavens and open doors.”
― Suzy KassemRise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

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