Words That Matter, Part 5

December 7, 2015

Personal Growth

We are often careless with our words, and some of them are so laden with negative meanings that we cause great harm without realizing it. Recently I began a discussion of such words,

Words That Matter Part 4
Words That Matter Part 3
Words That Matter Part 2
Words That Really Matter

and now we’ll continue:

Okay

There are many ways to say this:
“Okay.”
“Mm-hm.”
Silence.
“I see.”
“Yeah.”

Regrettably, “okay” can have a great variety of meanings, and unless we are sensitive to the tone of the person saying it—often along with their history and the context of the conversation—we may have no idea what is meant when “okay” is spoken. A few of the possible meanings might include the following:

  •  “I understand, and I agree with the concept you’re explaining or the instructions you’re giving.” This is usually the meaning of “okay” we WANT to hear, even though often that is not the meaning at all, so great misunderstandings can occur.
  •  “I understand, but I don’t agree with a word you’ve said. On the other hand, I don’t really want to get into a discussion with you—either because I don’t feel like it, or because you never listen anyway—so I’ll just mumble ‘okay’ to minimize further conversation.”
  •  “I feel backed into a corner. I feel criticized and attacked. I hate everything you just said, but I also know that if I defend myself, I’ll lose—partly because I lack the skill, and also because what you just said is RIGHT. So I’ll just lie, and because you want to believe I’ve listened and agree with you, you’ll be more likely to go away.” On many occasions people have asked me what they need to learn next, but after carefully explaining what they need to know and do, they conclude that they have no interest in learning or changing. They’re not going to listen to a word I said, but to avoid conflict, they say nothing, or they mumble, “okay.” It’s a coward’s way out of a difficult though meaningful conversation, but it often works, which is why they use it.
  •  “I’ll do what you want, but I really don’t want to.” In this case, “okay” is usually muttered with a distinctly resigned or even sarcastic tone.
  •  “Oh, how I wish you would shut up. I’m hating every second of this conversation, and I’d do anything to make it stop. Maybe if I say ‘Okay’ you’d feel like I’m agreeing with you—or at least listening—and you’d stop talking.”

In other words, if we’re not alert to the state of mind of the other person, their saying “okay” could be meaningless or confusing. We need to be sensitive to what other people are saying, or we’ll misinterpret entirely a simple “okay.”

In future blogs we’ll discuss more words that have a much greater negative effect than we realize or intend.

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