A person “with a way with words” can send another person wayward. Words matter, and in this Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn talks about how what we say can bring a person to a new level of success or grind them into oblivion. It’s your choice.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, your guest host for this edition of the Tough Things First podcast. I’m a writer and investigator in California. Here with me is Ray Zinn, the longest-serving CEO in Silicon Valley history. Hello again, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hi, hi, hi. How you doing there, Rob?
Rob Artigo: Well, Ray, you are known for your books, but you also just do a lot of writing in general. And for example, your musings are interesting always to me. And recently, you offered the advice, “If you have a way with words, you should make sure they’re wholesome and uplifting; otherwise, just keep your mouth shut.” And I think it’s good advice, but that’s what your musings are often about. So let’s dig a little deeper into that. Give us an idea of what you mean when you say the words need to be wholesome and uplifting.
Ray Zinn: Well, when we talk about interactions with people, and that’s what we do on a daily basis, depending upon how we feel, how our day is going, can change our mood, and our mood often determines how we interreact with people. The more frequent you are at being kind and understanding and gentle, the more often, even when your mood changes, you’re not in a great mood, you will still be kind in the way you communicate. So we all know the swear words, the four-letter words, and so forth, and we want to avoid those. Those are demeaning, degrading.
At Micrel, my company that I ran for 37 years, one of our cultures was you didn’t use condescending language. You didn’t use vulgarity, swear words, and you used good ways to communicate. You respected every individual. You spoke in an uplifting and congenial way. You didn’t do it in a negative, harmful way. Words hurt, and I know that they say, “Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s what my mom used to tell me, but words do hurt. Words hurt, maybe even more than sticks and stones. So being uplifting, being encouraging, being supportive, trying not to say anything negative or bad about somebody is key.
Even if you don’t like that person, even if you don’t agree, you don’t have a good personal relationship with them. Still be uplifting. Still be kind. Positive is the things that we need more in this world today than the negatives. We have the negatives all around us all the time. What we need to do is focus on the more positives. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” as that song goes. And so even if you’re having to reprimand someone, do it in a kind and gentle way. Don’t be negative and condescending and be respectful and just treat them like you’d like to be treated.
Rob Artigo: You’ve often said also that, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason, and you should use them proportionately.” And I was thinking about if I get to a situation where I recognize, if I’m self-aware enough and I’m doing what you suggest, I’m thinking about what my words will mean before they come out of my mouth so that I’m not having to apologize for something, but during that time, if I shut my mouth, it gives me a moment to listen. And so your musing made me think of that as well, that it gives you a chance to listen to what the other person’s saying and reflect on what your words may mean if you let them come out prematurely.
Ray Zinn: Well, listening is more than just hearing with your ears. Listening is also being aware of your surroundings. Being able to understand and digest things, maybe it’s the person’s mood swings or their facial expressions, their body language as you would. That helps us. That’s part of listening is looking at body language and looking at how things are happening. Just being a positive, understanding person is having a way with words, being able to communicate in a positive way. One of the things I hate about every political season is the negativity that comes out. They feel that somehow or another, they can’t get their point across unless they tear down the other person, which I think is totally wrong, totally wrong.
We have to learn to have differences with people without being differential and badmouthing. So just because you don’t have an equal opinion or something or you don’t agree with what they’re saying, you can still be friends. You can still look at the positive in that individual as opposed to the negative. You’re going to always find what you’re looking for in life, whether it be food or whether it be the clothes you wear or the programs you watch or listen to; that’ll all determine what kind of a person you are. Seek, and you shall find. In other words, whatever you’re seeking for is what you’re going to find. So if you seek for the good, you’re going to find the good. And no matter how much you differ or dislike certain aspects of an individual, you can still get along.
My wife and I have been married 62 years, and the way we’ve been able to survive for so long is because I love her. I mean, I appreciate who she is, I appreciate her issues and her differences. We don’t always agree on everything, but we don’t have to be disagreeable. So just because you disagree doesn’t mean you have to be disagreeable. And so here we are trying to find a better way with words. Look for the positive, look for the positive, ignore the negative.
Rob Artigo: Well, it’s a great example you brought up about the presidential race. So I said political environment; we’ve got primary battles going on right now and shaping up, and it is certainly relevant, and we hear it on TV. I mean, for years we’ve heard political hyperbole and language that seems like it likes to focus on instantly calling people names and not just the names, but the most extreme version of that. So instead of, “That guy’s a bad person,” you say, “He’s a criminal, needs to go to jail,” or, “That person is not very ethical,” and instead you say, “That person’s a Nazi,” or something like that.
I mean, they go to an extreme in the name-calling, and they go to the extreme in really the negative. So in politics… and this isn’t a politics show, but we’re talking about communications here. To go negative is one of your strategies, got to go negative against that guy right there. So I can beat my opponent, I got to go negative. I think people are hungry in this country for a different attitude about communications, like the ones you have been discussing in your comments there, is that we can do better in the way that we behave towards each other and have more mutual respect, instead of automatically saying, “Because you disagree with me, you’re some extreme example of lunacy from the history.”
Ray Zinn: Yeah. Avoid hate words like white supremacist, racist, bigot, all the other words that people have. These are negative; these are hate words. Avoid them like you would the four-letter words in vulgarity. So what we need to do is categorize some of these words that I just referred to as vulgar. These are vulgar, vulgar words. Avoid using these words. Even if you’re trying to explain something, don’t explain them in vulgar terms. And so avoid hate language. We all know what hate language is, so just treat hate language like you would vulgarity.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, you want to be able to have a conversation or a debate about something, or, in business, you want a success, you want your team to be successful. You want some harmony there, and in that harmony comes the approach that you’re talking about. And I, for one, appreciate it because it just underscores for me how much words matter. And of course, they always matter to me. We both have written books, so we’re word people as well, and it does matter. You don’t find a lot of words that are negative and not uplifting in what we’ve written.
So join the conversation at toughthingsfirst.com. Your questions and comments are always welcome. Follow Ray Zinn on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And of course, pick up Ray’s books; the Tough Things First book is always available out there. Get that one for starters, and then follow up with the Zen of Zinn series, which is book one, two, and three. So you won’t regret that. Thanks again, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Thanks, Rob.