This is part of a series of posts exploring the impact that our relationship with our family has on how we define success.

Successful leaders know that words must be used judiciously. They can empower people or undermine their motivation.

Sometimes, words are better left unsaid. Other times, those unspoken words could have made all the difference. – Don Zantamata

Commentary on Part Four – Have You Left Words Unsaid?

What is the original sin of business? The original sin of business is the business plan. Why? Without quoting the statistics on how business plans don’t work—we know what crapshoots most plans are—then why do we keep doing them? Cold reality shows most plans to be a pack of lies.

We keep doing them because the value of a well-done plan is as one of the best forms of communication within a company and with outside interested parties. The plan demands that you put in writing what you think is important, and what is not important. Anyone can look it over, agree or disagree, and, of course, adjust the plan.

Life is what happens when you are making other plans.  Tweet This Quote

But the communication is clear and undeniable. Whatever is not in the plan goes unsaid. What is in it becomes your compass. Now, if life were only that simple! Instead, as John Lennon pointed out, “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.”

In everyday life, we’re often caught off-guard by a situation, thinking later what we should have said, should have done. Unfortunately, a second chance may not appear and the moment is lost—with an opportunity possibly lost as well.

I was pleased that I took advantage of my opportunity with Marilyn. Fortunately, I could control the moment and prepare what I wanted to communicate, what I hoped she would hear. George Bernard Shaw’s words reminded me “the problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.” I knew that I had to frame my words to honor the deep listening required in a high quality communication, with lots of empathy for Marilyn, too.

Whether in business or in life, those opportunities to say what needs to be said, to have the courage to do what needs to be done, can make all the difference to your leadership motivation, career achievements and personal relationships. Unfortunately, Vicki Peterson found herself on the other side of words unsaid.

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. – Harriet Beecher Stowe  Tweet This Quote

Vicki grew up with her three sisters in Salt Lake City. An arranged marriage, her parents were “Jack” Mormons: Mormons in name only. Her sisters had no interest either, though their parents made them attend Church and functions.

But Vicki wanted to be a Mormon, and it created problems for her. She felt different, an outsider—in the community, and within her own family: “I wanted to live like a Mormon. That meant going to all the regular functions in town, too. Everyone was there, except my family, and if you weren’t at those functions, you weren’t anywhere.”

“My mother was an accountant,” Vicki recalls. “This was very rare then, particularly in a Mormon community. She had traditional Mormon roots, yet wanted a different life.

“Mother only had a high-school education. But that didn’t stop her. For her times, for that community, she was a real rebel, a trailblazer—independent, but tolerant. She always told me, ‘You have to learn to be independent. You can be whatever you want to be.’ I guess you’d say today that she was a modern woman. But underneath, there was a lot of quiet stress.”

After graduating high school in 1965, Vicki left home, and headed to San Francisco for college before returning to University of Utah her junior year. It was there that her mother came to visit, to tell Vicki that she had left her father.

“Dad was an accountant, too, and much older than Mom. As an only child, I don’t think he understood women. I don’t think he felt comfortable around us. He felt his job was to go to work and then come home—like a ’50s guy. His job wasn’t to get involved with any of us—with Mom or his daughters.”

The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.  Tweet This Quote

She wanted to get to know him, and him know her. “He was so uninvolved in our lives. I wanted more from him. Apparently so did Mom. I don’t think he believed a woman should do anything but raise the kids and take care of him. But they never openly argued.”

Vicki had a lot of conflict with her father. “I wanted to be complete with Dad,” she remembers wistfully. “‘Do you know who I am?’ I’d ask him in my imagination. I wanted him to be with me. I don’t think he knew what to do. I tried to go fishing and bowling with him, but we just didn’t connect.”

In November 1978, living in Boston with her husband and three beautiful children, Vicki decided to write a letter to her father. “I wanted to tell him what a wonderful daddy he had been. I realized that I knew how to love, that I felt I was a good person, and that I was very happy. I had inner peace. Part of all this goodness, part of who I was, was because of him. I wanted him to know that.”

She never heard back from him.

In January, Vicki got a call from her sister that their father had terminal stomach cancer. He died in 1981. Vicki went to her father’s funeral, where she met many of his nurses, bowling and fishing buddies and other family friends. Several pulled her aside that day, each with the same message:

“You know that letter you wrote him? He carried it with him everywhere. He showed it to everybody. It meant so much to him.”

“It meant so much to him,” she repeated silently to herself.

Vicki carries that letter with her to this day….

Hearts are broken by words unspoken.

If you love someone, make sure you tell them, or have you too left words unsaid?

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Mark Albion

Author Mark Albion

Mark Albion left his business school professorship to answer his life question: "How can I be a Marxist and still own my own Jacuzzi?" He is now a serial entrepreneur, faculty founder of Net Impact, and author of a series of books exploring meaningful careers, impact entrepreneurship, and success.

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