This week my sister-in-law posted a comment on her FaceBook feed: “I like you.” My first reaction was to reply with “What do you like about me?” I replaced it with “…I like the way your smile and energy lights up a room.”
Perhaps you rush out the door for work and give your spouse or child a quick peck on the cheek and say the obligatory “Love ya!” Or you have another call coming through on the cell phone, so you cut the call short with your mother with a quick, “Gotta-take-this-call-bye-I-love-ya!” Or you use the flippant “I’m sorry” to assuage your guilt.
Americans are famous for asking everyone, including strangers, “How are you?” Do we really want to know the honest answer to this question? Would we be comfortable with someone answering how they really are? Or would there be an uncomfortable silence as we figure out how to slip away before we are committed to listen?
We often say things because we think it’s polite to say them or that we are supposed to say them out of decency or obligation. We do not give much thought behind the meaning of the words we sometimes say, let alone if we even feel the sentiment. I’m as guilty as anyone else for doing this, but I’ve always wondered about the power of words and the effect on our emotions.
On occasion, I have responded with: “Do you want me to tell you honestly how I am, or would you like the polite ‘fine’?” or “Tell me…what is it that you love about me?” It immediately halted time’s momentum, as if I had stuck a stick in the spokes of a turning wheel. It defined the epitome of the awkward moment.
I know…I’ve been told that I am evil. But I also know that there are many others out there who want to ask the same questions. Some do.
For those on the receiving end of these questions, having an honest, loving answer will be the saving grace. Giving a dumbfounded look followed by the grunted, “Uh…um…er…” is not appropriate. “Uh, I don’t know” isn’t any better. And unless a more thoughtful response is given to preface this answer– “…you make great chicken enchiladas” or “…you’ve got a great body”–suffice it to say, someone will be relegated to sleeping on the couch for the night.
The words that we use have power. They have meaning. We do not always stop and consider what they mean, nor what they mean to us or the people hearing them. But they do have meaning that transcends much more than our need to say them or hear them.
Learning how to think beyond the words themselves and into the reason we want to say them will take us far in the strength and health of relationships we build to other people–loved ones, family, friends, business partners, colleagues, and more. Having the ability to share the reasons will make these relationships stand the test of time.
(Note from author: Originally published at Associated Content as: “Communication: How to Answer the Question “What Do You Love About Me?”)