Words Matter

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
-Mother Teresa

So there I was…it was July of 2008. A young Captain in the Army, fresh out of grad school, excited to be in an air-conditioned construction trailer in Aberdeen, MD, and not in Iraq or Afghanistan. I was scheduled to escort then BG Semonite (now LTG, Retired) around our $1.5 billion construction site…and I had no idea what I was doing. This is my boss’s boss, and up until now, in my Army career, if I was meeting with anyone above a Lieutenant Colonel, I did something wrong, REALLY wrong. So with this visit, there came a certain level of angst and excitement – 90% “don’t screw up,” 10% “nice to meet you!”. The day went off without a hitch. BG Semonite made the rounds, giving his “how can I help?” and “thanks for being part of the team” to a combination of employees, construction laborers, etc. But it was in a 5-minute conversation over lunch where BG Semonite said to me, “BJ, you may be new to the Corps (of Engineers) and have plenty to learn about this project and how we do business, but we don’t do everything right. There are many people here who do things because ‘that’s how it’s always been done.’ That doesn’t mean we should keep doing them….”  

He continued, “I want you to remember fresh eyes help us improve. I expect you to help us improve.”

“Roger, Sir!”  

In a matter of a 5-minute conversation, he completely shifted my view of the situation from me trying to find ways to add value to me analyzing everything with “why do we do this” and “wonder why they do that.” Not only did it aid me in helping the organization, but it helped me learn that much faster.  

From music to movies and books to bedtime stories, words are a powerful tool. They can inspire, or they can divide. They can build up, or they can tear down. They can forgive an old enemy, or they can create a new one. Words can tell a love story, a war story, a fairy tale, or a fable. Sure, we use words in our professional lives – delegating tasks, winning a proposal, conveying a technical approach, or revisiting a case study.  Even launching a marketing campaign or a podcast (see below). Words help us manage people, projects, expectations, and emotions.  

The words we use matter. And this week, 2 weeks into 2021, I implore you to think about the words you use. The words that are inside of your head, the words that come out of your mouth, and the words that are typed with your fingers. What you say and how to say it has power…use them wisely and positively.  

And remember, words aren’t enough. So turn off the news and close social media because as powerful as our words are…words can’t take action unless we do.  

So, this weekend, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., take action. Not by arguing on Facebook but by doing something for someone. Pick up trash on the sidewalk, hold a door for a stranger, smile, and give a compliment to a friend or family member.  

And in closing, Remember what MLK, Jr. said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” 

BJ Kraemer, President