What Donald Sterling can Teach us about Words

Dave Weber - CEO/President

As the NBA reaches the end of its season, the news headlines center around a scandal far from the court, a recording allegedly of an argument between Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his former girlfriend. The ignorant and small-minded comments about race have players, coaches and owners calling for the league to remove Sterling.

The comments—whether they end up confirmed as Sterling’s or not—are unacceptable, and the entire episode casts a poor light on the sport, where other owners, coaches and players were some of the original trailblazers and boundary-breakers in the civil rights movement. As the story continues to evolve, I hope it will generate productive discussion about racism, privacy, and business ethics. But, with the information we have now (which is not much), here’s a few things to think about:

  1. Words are powerful—One of the main thrusts of my book, Sticks & Stones Exposed, is the idea that our words can do more damage to others and ourselves that we’ve ever realized. Whether spoken, emailed, Tweeted, or texted these little black scribbles can wreak havoc in an instant. In the age of “friends and followers”, it’s wise to be even more aware of how far-reaching our words can be. The words spoken in the recording have hurt plenty of the people in Sterling’s life and many that he doesn’t even know.
  2. Words have consequences—So often we blurt out something without considering the consequences. Or, without considering that our words even have consequences. This is a HUGE mistake! Our careless and thoughtless words can wreck relationships, poison corporate cultures, and sink innovative ideas and projects. It does not matter if you are in public or private, “in the heat of the moment” or “just joking around.” You may not stand to lose an entire NBA team, but your damaging words might put your relationships with employees, clients and family on the line—and isn’t that really the most important?
  3. Words create collateral damage—Maybe you know that sometimes in the heat of the moment, you tend to say some colorful things that might hurt others. Get over it, you think. What you don’t realize is that you’re also hurting yourself. Similar to a boomerang, the hurtful things you say DO come back to you—in the form of a bitter spouse, resentful and unmotivated coworkers, fed up customers that finally disappear, and friends that begin to avoid your phone calls. When your words hurt other people (even unintentionally!), their opinion of you, and consequently their treatment of you will change as well. Your life is the collateral damage.

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