Skills Development          
  Issue: March 2006  

Teri Burgos-Gutierrez, Corporate Trainer

Teri Gutierrez is a corporate trainer, author, speaker, and web columnist. She can be reached at

The Power of the Word

“WORDS are thoughts and therefore invisible POWER. They are living messengers from which every human activity is born.” --Winston Churchill

Words are important elements of oral communication. They enable us to receive knowledge and information from sources outside ourselves. They make us reexamine what we know and help us communicate to others our beliefs, opinions, sentiments and experiences. Our choice of words determines the ideas we receive, how we think, and the accuracy with which we communicate these thoughts and feelings. In oral communication, meanings are relayed or affected by the way we say the words, by the tone of our voice, and by our body movements. Yet, the words themselves must mean the same thing to the listener that they do to the speaker if we want to achieve effective and accurate communication. Failure to understand this may result to communication breakdown in our workplaces.

Choosing the Right Words

In order to communicate our message to our listeners, we need to choose the right words that clearly express out thoughts. Very often, in both informal conversation and public speaking, we make statements that are not very clear. For example:

  • Unclear: Let’s go to a place where they sell those things we need for the office.
  • Clear: Let’s go to the bookstore that sells books and school supplies.

To develop the skill in choosing the right words, we can use:

1. simple words – our ideas will be easier to understand if we use simple words and phrases rather than the complex or difficult ones. The English language gives us a variety of words that can be used to express various shades of meaning.

Simple Words Difficult Words
dislike abhor
increase abound
assist succor
betray circumvent
belief credence
expect forebode
harm detriment
quick expeditious

2. precise words – these express our thoughts and feelings accurately. The use of vague words confuses the listeners and does not clearly express our intended meaning. To choose precise words that clearly and accurately communicate our point, we need to increase our speaking vocabulary. This will give us choices and will make us sensitive to differences in meaning.

  • Vague: We had a bad meeting yesterday.
  • Precise: We had a disorganized meeting yesterday.
  • Vague: My supervisor looked through the monthly report.
  • Precise: My supervisor examined the monthly report.

3. specific words – these identify items within a category while general words refer to an entire category. Almost any concept can be made more general or more specific by the words we use to express it. Specific words help our listeners to form a picture in their minds of the exact images we want them to see.

  • General Word: The purchasing officer bought a lot of THINGS at the bookstore.
  • Specific Word: The purchasing officer bought pencils, brown envelopes, white board pens, and bond paper at the bookstore.
  • General Word: Several office people are inside the elevator.
  • Specific Word: Several bank employees are inside the elevator.

4. concrete words – these name things that can be perceived by one or more of the five senses. In contrast, abstract words name ideas or beliefs that cannot be perceived by the senses. For example, loyalty is abstract because it names something that we cannot touch, smell, hear, taste or see. Although concrete words can be used to make it easy for others to understand us, we need at least some abstract words to identify broader messages. Concrete words can be used to explain abstract ideas like in the following explanation of the words DEMOCRACY and LOYALTY.

Example: We are fighting for DEMOCRACY in our country. We are fighting for men and women seeking for equal rights. We are fighting for the freedom of students to speak against tuition fee increase.

Example: We encourage the development of LOYALTY in everyone. We encourage citizens to love and respect their country. A husband and a wife must remain true to each other and accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Limitation of Words

Because good and appropriate words can take on diverse meanings, they are useful in communicating accurate meanings only within the limits of a common core of experiences and personal associations. The more common that core is, the more accurately meanings are communicated. The user of words must understand this limitation and must know what words can do and what they cannot do. The search for words which possess this commonality of meanings is part of a communicator’s task and his reward in using them exists in the increased accuracy of his communicative efforts.

To quote George Herbert: Good words are worth much, and cost little.”