choose your words carefully

Been complaining at work lately? Read this.

There are certain key characteristics of individuals that really stand out to me as a senior executive.  These are things that you do so consistently that I can’t help but attach them to my description of you. 

Seeing an employee with a strong, consistent character is one of the first indications that you are someone to watch; someone to consider for the most challenging and rewarding opportunities.  If I see your character as the clown, whiner, complainer, slow worker, no initiative, etc., I’ll look to others for help and start to think about whether you even belong here.

Early in my career, I studied the people who I thought had strong characters and were seemingly universally respected.  They were always the ones who chose and used their words very thoughtfully. 

There’s a great quote, attributed to many people in many forms, from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu to Ralph Waldo Emerson, to Margaret Thatcher, that I often use when coaching young professionals.  It does a great job of describing the concept I’m discussing, and it goes like this:

“Watch your thoughts for they become words.

Watch your words for they become actions.

Watch your actions for they become habits.

Watch your habits for they become your character.

And watch your character for it becomes your destiny.”


Simple Translation:

You think, “I hate dealing with clients” (thoughts), and you start complaining to your coworkers (words)

Your friendliness and helpfulness start to decline when dealing with clients (actions)

You take on a permanently dismissive tone when you interact with clients (habit)

You become known for being abrasive (character)

Your abrasive character results in you being passed over for promotions (your destiny)

As you can see, simple things, like the thoughts you have and the words you use can turn into character-defining habits.  They will directly influence the perceptions that people have of you. The words you choose are driven by the attitudes and thoughts you have, and how thoughtfully (or not) you translate them into sentences.

This is especially true when you’re still in the first 10 or so years of your career.  Now is the time to work on:

  • Choosing your words carefully
  • Teaching yourself to pause before speaking to assess whether it’s the right environment and audience for your words
  • Maturing your attitudes and word choices so you are not complaining or offending others
  • Being aware of your actions and their impact
  • Handling your emotions constructively (this one really takes focus and discipline)
  • Maintaining a close awareness of your habits so they don’t become hurtful to your career progress

This stuff is not easy, and building a strong character takes practice and time to develop!  You will need focus and honest self-assessment (which can be tough) to keep yourself from heading down the wrong path. 

In the end, you will navigate your destiny either intentionally or unintentionally.  So think hard about how you want your thoughts, words, actions and character to be perceived by others.  Choose wisely, and you will be rewarded time and time again!

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July 11, 2014 6:42 am - by Matt Miades

Tags: character, character-defining, habits, professional development, soft skills, words, young professionals,

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