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From Where We Sit

Words matter

Anton Ng

Over the weekend, my two daughters were playing a game wherein their “powers” would be determined by the words that they said. Their special powers lived in their words.

“Ice!” shouted my three-year old as she pointed both her arms to her sister. A blast of ice was about to enclose her ate when my eight-year-old closed her eyes, stretched her arms to both sides with palms facing up and whispered, “Strengthen my barrier.” A forcefield protected her from the icy blast of the little one. Not only could ate protect herself with a barrier, she could also summon the powers of fire to melt the ice and earth to make flowers bloom. And because the little one could only summon ice, frustration became evident on her face. She couldn’t compete; not because she could neither shout louder nor lacked imagination, but because she could only have the power of “ice.” She couldn’t compete because her sister’s vocabulary was far superior to hers.

Words matter, because unspoken words cannot conjure the power that lives in them if kept silent. In the Bible, God spoke the world into being. Not only did He think of creating the world, He spoke it. He commenced the creation of the universe with the words, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

The miracle of words is not confined to God alone. In the crucial hockey game between the United States and the highly favored Soviet Union during the 1980 Olympic games, Coach Herb Brooks of Team USA gave his “Great moments are born from great opportunity” speech. The speech that we heard in the 2004 movie Miracle may or may not be the exact speech given by Coach Brooks, but words were definitely heard by the players in the Team USA locker room that day. Sure, the speech alone did not cause the amateur college players of Team USA to beat their Soviet counterpart, but the words uttered by Coach Brooks contributed to the energy displayed by his team, which led to their miraculous victory.

Words matter, because words can provide hope in spite of the bleakness that surrounds us. Martin Luther King, Jr. uttered the words: “I have a dream that…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers,” at a time when hope for racial equality seemed to be lost forever. More than half a century later, his words continue to inspire hope for those who desperately need them today.

Words matter, and when they are not spoken regret may dawn, and by that time, those words may no longer matter. They may no longer be heard nor needed. How many times do we hear people say that they regret not telling the one they love how much they loved them before they passed away? Would your words of encouragement and praise, if given to one of your employees, have resulted in retaining talent in your organization?

Words should matter, not only in our generosity with words but also in our choice of words. Given their power to destroy one’s spirit, our choice of words matters. Given their power to stir up hatred and violence, our choice of words matters. Given their power to sow confusion and misunderstanding; because words can inflict wounds, our choice of words should definitely matter. So postpone sending out an email or talking to our staff when we are angry. The message we want to deliver can wait, but we can never take back the words that have already left us. Read and reread our draft before we send those emails. Check not only for grammar and spelling but, most importantly, read it from the perspective of the person receiving such an email. You can even have one of your colleagues read your draft email before you hit the send button.

The memory of how we were reprimanded by the boss remains with us long after the wound was supposed to have healed. We remember how we felt humiliated and insecure when our work was judged to be inferior for all our co-workers to hear? Use words that can build up and not destroy. Words can make or break a person, an organization, or even an entire nation.

Some might argue that actions speak louder than words. Others would say that words without action are dead. Although these sayings may be true, they do not and should not prevent us from being generous with words wisely chosen. For if such words are muted, action will be nothing more than a symbolism that is subject to interpretation – interpretation that could have been clarified through the use of the right words.

Words matter, and the appropriate choice of words matters as well. If you have the appropriate words, speak them, write them, never hold them back. Otherwise, you’ll be frozen in ice by the very power of the word spoken by my little girl.

Anton Ng is a partner, Audit & Assurance of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 partners and more than 850 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to or For more information, visit our website:


As published in BusinessWorld, dated 06 September 2017