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Right Words, Wrong Place

When someone passes away, it's of course difficult, even tragic, especially for those close to the person who was lost. However, there are times when I've heard television news anchors share news of a death in a way that in my mind, and excuse any unintended insensitivity, humorous to say the least.

It usually goes something like this. "Former mayor of Rockland, Indiana, John Salisbury, who's been struggling with a chronic heart condition for months now, sadly died at Mt. Vernon Memorial hospital.

Somehow, I doubt they meant that John, was particularly sad himself when he passed on. On a less serious note, "Phil read the note taped to the wall." Seems like that would make reading anything difficult while in that position. Or, "After finishing my dinner, the waitress promised to bring the dessert tray." Later as the dessert tray arrives, "Uh,excuse me, but I wasn't finished with my meal when you ate it for me."

Okay, so those mistakes aren't likely to cause long-term problems or angst. We've probably all written or said something like that. You might even find an example in this post but don't go look.

But there are some other times when we say things that are in some settings a good thing, however, it's just not the best time or place to do so. A couple of examples.

How about when we want someone to know we care. It's probably good to hear that there's someone who will always be there or has some understanding of what they're facing. But to jump into our feelings, keep talking and not just be with the person for a while probably isn't welcomed or what they need. Right words, wrong place.

Or when someone is feeling unimportant, without value, not needed, etc. we can immediately go to, "Oh, you shouldn't feel that way. You're so talented and everyone loves you." But they don't feel that way, at least right now. Right words, wrong place.

Or a third example comment might include, "And you know, I went through the same thing a couple of years ago and I was able to get through it pretty quickly. I'm doing great now!" And the listener's response to themselves will maybe be, "Good for you. What does that have to do with me today? I guess this isn't supposed to be a big deal then, right?" Right words, wrong place.

I met a leader a year or so ago at a conference who I'd only met a time or two before at similar events. However, he was a good acquaintance of my friend, so since we were both meeting others when we bumped into each other, I simply re-introduced myself and mentioned my friend's name. That connected with him so he asked how I was doing. I mentioned some things that had gone well for our organization in missions and the first words he said were, "Well, you know, our group has done (way more similar things though not said per se) in the last few years."

That could have been good news that we both celebrated but instead it appeared like he just wanted to one-up me and didn't care if we celebrated or not. Right words, wrong place.

Yes, our words matter whether at home, in the neighborhood, at church, used at work. In fact, pretty much everywhere. What we say does matter, but when we say it and how we say it counts, too. Wisdom from the Bible's book of Proverbs, chapter 18, says that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." And an earlier verse tells us not to speak before we listen.

So let's be on the lookout for several responses that can miss the mark and send wrong message . Instead, wait and use better timing. Some of the good things we can provide will be helpful, but just not right then. Even compliments can be missed or misguided if said when five other things are distracting or needing the messenger's attention.

Two, remember the context and situation. We need to consider what's going on right then that might guide our word selection or timing? Did their struggle just happen or has it been a while? How well do you know the person or persons? How much do you know or need to find out before responding more?

Three, keep it simple at first. Less is more. Have you thought about whether the other person can understand your point, illustration or offer given based on where they are right then, their background or the other specifics of the situation. It's possible that they will miss the key points because they're hearing it through a poor connection without the nuances explained.

So, take a little more notice of what you say. Consider how much you talk or interrupt or even lecture. Words matter. Try to use the right ones in the right place. Less is more.

Oh, hey, I heard some good news earlier. Two sisters here in Indianapolis were reunited after thirty years in the checkout line at the grocery store. And you thought your store can be busy.


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