The Power of Our Words
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt (Ret.)
History records the power of words in the affairs of mankind.Rudyard Kippling put it this way - “Words are, of
course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
Kipling used this metaphor in a 1923 speech he made to the Royal College of Surgeons in London . He uses the comparison
of words to drugs to describe the persuasive effect words can have on another person. As he says in the next
sentence of the speech, "Not only do words infect, egotize, narcotize, and paralyze, but they enter into and
colour the minutest cells of the brain. . . ." A vivid description of the ability of a person to use words to
change and influence the way another person thinks and feels. Whether written or spoken, words have the power to
change and transform the world around us.Words inspire emotions for good as well as bad - they inspire love and
friendship or hate and anger.They evoke sympathy and compassion or judgement and rejection.Scripture records
that God spoke the world into existence with words and that words have the power of life and death.
In the legal profession words are the tools of the trade - the secret to accomplishment of a client’s lawful
objective. The transactional lawyer painfully chooses the words which “express the intent of the
parties’ absent any ambiguity.
To the litigation lawyer words are the first vehicle of persuasion or as misused the delivery of
destruction and misery. A really competent lawyer - what I call the winning lawyer - changes the choice of words in
The wrong choice of words is the leading factor in an advocates failure to persuade.Remember now Aristotle’s Elements of Persuasion.
All three elements have to be accomplished largely through the use of words or pictures painted by
words.Thus, in close case the lawyer who uses “verbal fisticuffs” LOSES THE EMOTION OF THE DECISION MAKER AND
PERSONAL CREDIBILITY AND THEREFOR BECOMES UNWORTHY OF BELIEF. The confusing occasions of the mean spirited, sharp
tongued lawyer winning the day are usually attributable to unbeatable facts and law. In other words no one - even
the incompetent-could lose the case.
When the lawyer leaves the court room for the mediation room a major change in the choice of words is necessary for
a successful end to a dispute. If a mediation lawyer walks into a mediation and in the opening
statement starts to use sharp, mean spirited words it is almost impossible to rescue the mediation. On more than
one occasion I have called a recess and asked to speak to each lawyer separately (without their clients) - usually
picking the non-offending lawyer to go first. Privately, I can make sure that the lawyer knows the consequences of
the chosen words and make some suggestions for a new choice of words. Suggestions like , “we could think about
that”, “ I will consider that”, and “ that is an interesting point”.
Always Have a Plan
When choosing the words that will be used ask the question - what do I wish to accomplish by my words?
Then choose the best words to accomplish that objective. Make sure you have a plan - then chose words to accomplish
that plan. First write the words down then speak them then think about your choice again. When it comes to words
always - Plan , Write, Speak and then Plan
by - Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt ( Ret.)