How You Say It by Jim Stovall

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How you say something can be as important or even more important than what you say. Tone, inflection, and verbiage can carry the day or cost you everything. For example, in the midst of heated arguments, an explosive exchange or vindictive response might grab immediate attention, but oftentimes can cost you respect and cooperation you may need to reach your goal.  

My late, great friend and mentor Coach John Wooden told me that when he was only five or six years old, he and his older brother were cleaning out the barn on their family farm. His brother teased him as older brothers will often do to younger brothers, and the young Coach Wooden responded with profanity he had heard but wasn’t even sure what it meant just as his father walked into the barn. Coach Wooden told me that his father responded with love and respect asking both of the boys to promise to never use bad language again.  

As Coach Wooden was telling me this story, he was 98 years of age, having lived an active and productive life until a few months short of his hundredth birthday. He told me that in the 90 years since he had made that promise to his father in the barn, he had kept his word. Coaching is a profession that is often known for its profanity and coarse language, but Coach John Wooden rose above that and taught his players to do the same.  

He shared with me about a time that his UCLA Bruins were the visiting team, and they were meeting in their locker room in an arena across the country. One of the janitors for the building had come into the locker room and used some profanity. Coach Wooden stopped the meeting and politely said, “Sir, could you please watch your language.” The janitor was quite surprised, being used to such language being acceptable in the locker room, and asked, “Are there ladies present?” Coach Wooden responded, “No, sir. There are no ladies present, but hopefully there are a number of gentlemen.” 

What you say tells others what you know. How you say it tells them who you are. You can disagree verbally without being disagreeable. It is important to never attack another person. When it is necessary, you must challenge the other person’s behavior. In this way, we would never call a person a liar. We would, instead, challenge the truth of a specific statement they have made.  

Try to make every statement in such a way that you would feel comfortable being quoted directly, both now and far into the future.  

As you go through the day today, pay attention to not only what you say but how you say it.  

Today’s the day! 

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This and other motivational pieces by bestselling author Jim Stovall can be found in his Wisdom for Winners series, each title in which is an official publication of the Napoleon Hill Foundation. Listen to these inspirational collections of Stovall’s writings now on Audible: Wisdom for Winners: A Millionaire MindsetWisdom for Winners Volume 2, and Wisdom for Winners Volume 3. Be sure to also check out The Art of Communication, coauthored with Dr. Raymond Hull.