Words Can Build Relationships or Destroy Them

The words and gestures you use have the power to either lift people up or bring them down. Choose wisely, especially in your daily interactions with your family.

Yesterday I went to get my watch battery replaced at the local shopping centre’s Mr Repairman Service and received a surprise. The man who served me did a great job. He had 18 years’ experience. You could tell he really knew his job.

When I asked him how things were going in his franchise business, he gave me a caustic and complaining answer. “Can’t wait to walk away from it. I only have 12 months to go! The fix-it company I work for are A-holes.”

His reply saddened me. This man was good at his job, but his words were toxic. Obviously, he had not read one of the world’s best-selling self-help books on communication, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written by Dale Carnegie, and still at #13 on Amazon’s bestselling list, this book continues to live on as a bestseller 87 years after its publication.

Negativity’s Flow-On Effects

My friend at the repairman place did not understand the important words of Dale Carnegie, “Don’t criticise, condemn or complain.” I will let Terry Siebert, a writer for InBusiness magazine, explain:

This quote is the first principle out of 30 from Dale Carnegie’s classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. All of the other principles are positive: be a good listener; give honest appreciation; make the other person feel important; try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view — the list goes on. It’s interesting to note that the only principle that says, “DON’T,” also happens to be the first one.

When thinking about this a little deeper, if you violate principle number one, you’ve made it considerably more difficult to have any positive influence with the others. This is vitally important in building strong, enduring relationships.

When you criticise, condemn, and complain, you are clearly putting relationship points in the debit column. You more than likely know people who do this all too frequently. They are the kind of folks who light up the room only when they leave. Gary Player, the professional golfer, once said, “Some people think their own candle burns brighter when they snuff out other people’s candles.”

Not only does criticism have a negative effect on personal relationships, it can also destroy business relationships. In one of our training programs, we ask people to share an experience that they could “buy back” if they could. The following story is one of the more powerful.

An individual worked for a local construction company. He was driving on the Beltline on a nice summer day in a company pickup with the company logo on both sides of the truck. All of a sudden, he was passed and almost sideswiped by a little, red, two-seater Mercedes, driven by an attractive lady. Not to be outdone, and apparently to justify his manhood, he caught up to her and did exactly the same thing to her. To put an exclamation, point on the manoeuvre, he actually flipped her off as he passed and made darn sure she saw the gesture.

Later that day when he got back to the shop, his boss called him to his office. The boss basically repeated the part of the story about him going after the Mercedes. He also said that the woman had been about to sign a significant remodelling contract with the company. Not only was she now NOT going to sign the contract, she promised that she would tell all her friends the story, along with the strong recommendation to never do business with the company.

Does criticism have an impact on business relationships? Duh! 

It was Dale Carnegie who said, “Any fool can criticise, condemn, or complain.” What he did not say is how many of us fall into the foolish trap and put those negative points in the debit column of personal and professional relationships. In today’s fast-paced electronic world, I cannot tell you how many stories I have heard about those who have hit “Reply All” in a highly emotional state and regretted it the moment they took their finger off the SEND button. An old friend of mine used to have a saying that reiterates the point:

“Be careful of the words you speak,
Keep them soft and sweet,
Because you’ll never know from day to day,
Which ones you’ll have to eat.”

In conclusion, if the goal is build and maintain — not destroy — long-term personal and business relationships, it is probably a good idea to stay away from criticism, condemnation, and complaining.

Dale Carnegie is right. It is easy to criticise, condemn or complain, but it is hard to do the opposite. I can still hear my Scottish grandmother saying, “If you can’t say anything good about a person, don’t say anything at all.” I was six or seven years of age when I first heard it, but it still rings in my head today. Thankfully, most days I put it into practice. Sometimes I fail, and they are always the moments I regret.

Words have a power of their own. David Du Plessis said, “Words create worlds.” Zig Ziglar’s pithy quote sums it up: “There is power in words. What you say is what you get.”

Extending Grace

I grew up in a broken home, wracked by marital disharmony. Twice I was separated from my father as a young boy and taken by my mother to Scotland to live with my grandmother. At that stage of my life, I thought everyone lived with their grandmother.

In my growing years, to my dad’s credit, I never heard him say a negative word about my mother. He lived by the motto of my mother’s mother. However, my mother was not so gracious in her conversations with me. She said, more than once, “Your father is an ogre.”

At the time, I didn’t know what an ogre was, but I knew it wasn’t good. Thankfully Shrek, with his Scottish accent, has rehabilitated ogres to a great extent.

In all my dealings with separated families, I don’t often hear men destroying their ex-wives verbally, but women seem to do so to their ex-husbands far too easily. We should all avoid such behaviour.

Rod Lampard has written a brilliant article at Daily Dad called ‘Parental Alienation is Child Abuse’. Fortunately, my mother did not try to alienate me from my dad entirely. Sadly though, from firsthand experience, I can see how easily it happens.

We would all do well to never criticise, condemn or complain. I must confess to being a long way short of becoming a saint in this regard — but I am working on it.

(Check out my other article about the positive power of words called, “Three Keys to Motivating Your Children.”)


This is a hard one, but a good one. “Never criticise, condemn or complain.”

Yours for Building Relationships,
Warwick Marsh


First published at Dads4Kids. Photo by Julia M Cameron.

By |2023-01-06T16:58:16+10:00January 9th, 2023|Dads, Families|0 Comments

About the Author:

Warwick Marsh has been married to Alison Marsh since 1975; they have five children and nine grandchildren, and he and his wife live in Wollongong in NSW, Australia. He is a family and faith advocate, social reformer, musician, TV producer, writer and public speaker.

Warwick is a leader in the Men’s and Family Movement, and he is well-known in Australia for his advocacy for children, marriage, manhood, family, fatherhood and faith. Warwick is passionate to encourage men to be great fathers and to know the greatest Father of all. The Father in Whom “there is no shadow of turning.”

Leave A Comment