Consequences of Belief: Words

The effect of what your words mean to you

In the first novel of the Harry Potter series, the wand maker Ollivander said that Lord Voldemort did great things – terrible, but great. The word great meant something to Ollivander that has led many to question what that is. After all, Voldemort’s reputation was that he was one of, if not, the evilest sorcerer of all time. His Machiavellian reign shouldn’t be something people praise.

In my experience, conflict occurs most commonly from miscommunication. Some of the worst arguments I’ve had with people were because we were using the same words but with different meanings.

When Ollivander said that Voldemort did great things, he didn’t mean that Voldemort was a morally good person who accomplished morally good outcomes. He meant that Voldemort’s actions were effective and had a pronounced impact.

Your words have meaning, and when you speak those words to other people, they need to know what you mean by those words. The consequences of words range from small to great.

I asked my oldest son if he wanted to walk down the street one morning and grab us some breakfast from a restaurant in our neighborhood. He told me that he didn’t want to, and I responded with, “okay.”

A few minutes later, he came down from his room dressed and ready to get breakfast. When I asked him what changed his mind, he responded that he thought I was disappointed he said, “No.” From my perspective, the response I gave him was one of acknowledgment and acceptance. He didn’t want to go, and I wasn’t going to tell him to go anyway.

He read my one-word response as disappointment and wanted to please me. This misunderstanding affected him emotionally and compelled him toward an action he didn’t want to do but was willing to for the positive outcome. I cooked breakfast that morning instead of letting him go get it.

Even the most menial of phrases have meaning, and if you aren’t careful, your words will mean something different to someone you never intended. Here are a few tips to consider that will help your communication:

  1. Agree about what words mean. Whether you are talking to family, friends, or co-workers, make sure everyone agrees about what words mean when they are used.
  1. Accept that people mean what they say. When my boss says, “I don’t care” about a course of action, I know he means that as long as the decision is ethical, legal, and fits within the mission of our agency, he really doesn’t care how we do it. I can make a decision and execute that decision carte blanche. I know that though because we’ve agreed on what those words mean.
  1. Stop looking for hidden meaning. Most people have enough on their plate that they don’t have time to devise a conspiracy or trick you with words. Stop trying to figure out what they really meant by what they said.
  1. The golden rule counts for communication too. Talk to others with the same tone, vocabulary, and body language you want them to use with you.

Question: What words do you find are commonly used and misunderstood? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


I am an author, speaker, and leader with a passion for developing people into practical leaders who put their principles into practice. I am the co-author of the acclaimed book Faith Acts with best-selling author Dillon Burroughs, the Chief Operations Officer at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, and an independent leadership consultant to up and coming leaders and start up nonprofit organizations. My greatest joy, however, is serving Christ and his Church. I am the proud husband of Shay and father of two great boys. We live in Chattanooga, TN. #NoogaStrong

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, or downright annoying.

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