Words Are Free But Their Value Is Priceless

Why should I have to tell you that I love you?  I’m married to you, aren’t I?

Why should I have to compliment you for doing yourthumbs up job?  I pay you every week.

It’s the “I shouldn’t have to tell you – you should just know” phenomenon, and it isn’t just confined to elderly, curmudgeon men.

Words are hard for many people. They find it difficult to express feelings of love, affection or admiration, and getting a compliment out of them is like trying to squeeze water from a stone.

Being stingy with praise and affection is a problem that shows up in the workplace, in marriages, and even with our own children.

As with most things, the most vehement resistors are usually just afraid.   Here are some common fears that cause discomfort with accolades and emotions, and how to get over them.

I’m afraid people will slack off – If I tell my people they’re good at handling x, they might quit doing y.  It sounds logical, but it’s not. Study after study has shown that praise inspires better performance, not the opposite.

If you suffer from this common corporate delusion, you might want to ask yourself: How did you feel the last time someone paid you a compliment? Did you have more energy or less?

I’m afraid of looking silly – If you’re not good with words, the whole concept of compliments or declarations of affection feels fraught with potential for error.

But in reality, when you’re saying something nice about someone, they’re usually so happy to hear it, they’re unlikely to critique the delivery. If you’re worried about doing it wrong, write it down in advance.  If you’re truly sincere, people won’t mind if you check your notes.

I’m afraid of being vulnerable – This is probably the most common fear, and sadly, it’s the one that affects our most intimate relationships. Expressing your love for someone feels like it puts you in a position of vulnerability.

It’s easy to say: I show up for you every day; isn’t that enough?   But the truth is, it’s not enough. People need to hear the words.  They need to hear them a lot.

We all have our own negative internal thought tracks.  Even the Pollyannas of the world can descend into negativity when we’re having a bad day.

That’s why affirming words from others matter so much.  If the people you care about don’t feed you any positive, loving messages, all you’re left with are your own thoughts.

In the absence of positive messages, our brain often fills in the gaps with negativity.

So while you might not be shouting, “I don’t love you,” to your spouse, unless you’re regularly telling them that you do love them, their mind is going to fill in the void.

Failure to express positive feelings is damaging to everyone.  What’s so silly is that this is an easily solvable problem.

Words are free. Nothing bad happens to you when you shower nice ones on the people you care about.

Nobody leaves their career saying, “Thank heavens I didn’t give out too many compliments.”

And I can’t think of single person who bid goodbye to a family member thinking, “I sure am glad I didn’t tell them how much I cared.”

“Good job” and “I love you” cost you nothing. But failing to say them may cost you everything.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant. The founder and principal of McLeod & More, Inc, she specializes in sales and leadership training. Her newest book, The Triangle of Truth, has been cited as the blueprint for “how smart people can get better at everything.” Visit for a short video intro.   Copyright 2010 Lisa Earle McLeod.  All rights reserved.