Overcoming the Danger of Familiarity

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Words are like a ship’s rudder; they establish and maintain life’s direction.

During dinner with two successful leaders, one the COO of an organization with over 14,000 employees, I noticed the COO spoke with subtle optimism.

He didn’t  excitedly jump up and down. He wasn’t blindly filled with bubbly optimism; something that sets me on edge. His temperament and demeanor led me to expect a “darker” outlook but his speech consistently set a positive course. I admire him.

You say things to those you know well that you never say to those you don’t know well. You expose yourself and become vulnerable; that’s healthy. Familiarity, on the other hand, frees you to overlook social protocols and speak in ways that others would interpret as harsh, negative, or ungrateful.

My passion this morning concerns bringing higher levels of positive speech to those we know best. The advantage of familiarity is reality – both good and bad. The disadvantage is we expend our positive speech on those we know least and express our negative speech with those we know best.

A challenge: Treat those you know best as those you know least. For example, once a week a local business leader buys me lunch. It’s unfortunate that the familiarity of his kindness may result in casual, unspoken appreciation on my part. If it was a one-time lunch, forgetting to show appreciation would be out of the question.

Your words matter because they establish and maintain direction. They matter to those you know least. They matter, more importantly, to those you know best.


What direction do your words establish and maintain for the relationships you enjoy?