July 25 – Actions, words and seeing the truth about people

July 25. “You might not be what you say you are but what you say, you are.” (Zig Ziglar)

On the face of this quote, Ziglar seems to be saying that our words betray who we are more than us simply saying who we are. I am struggling a bit with this one because it doesn’t necessarily ring true for me.

I do agree that it doesn’t matter what kind of person I “say” I am. I can say I am an optimist, and be a pessimist. I can say I am open minded, then be judgmental and closed. I can say I am supportive of someone or something, then criticize when the back is turned. Soon enough my actions will betray my words, and my true character will show.

Where I have a hard time with this one is in the emphasis on words. What I think Ziglar is trying to get at is that, in the long run, the accumulation of all the things I say will show who I am. In a sense, he is focused on actions over statements. On that, he and I agree.

I have always been a believer in, and a preacher of the notion that actions speak louder than words. If I want to know a person’s true character, or their real beliefs about things, I will observe them in action. Words are easy to fake. Even some actions in the short run can fool people. But a person’s patterns over time will give them away.

I once worked for a Program Manager who said all the right things to senior management about following the Program Management standards for our organization. This person talked a good game about use of the tools, consistent application of process, and so on. When this person was in front of senior management, with a well-polished report, all looked great. But the truth was that it was all show. Behind the scenes the tools were seldom used, and processes only loosely followed. It was only when it was known that senior management was looking that things shaped up.

In my own life there are countless examples where my actions spoke louder than my words. A few years back, when I was battling depression, I would put on a smile for my friends and pretend that all was well. But my family knew that I was miserable most of the time. And my closest friends saw right through the façade. Some even called me out on it. It wasn’t until I was able to stop lying to others (and myself), that I could really get a grip on the depression and work my way through it.

This morning my reflection is on actions and words. At work I am in the process of starting with a new set of management. There are some “meet and greet” type sessions scheduled in the coming days. At those meetings a lot of words will be said, hands will be shaken, smiles will be exchanged. We will all leave those meetings feeling good about ourselves and the new management team. The real test, though, will come in the next few months as we all get to know each others’ real selves. It will be then that we can really judge how things are going.

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