Published On: Sun, Apr 25th, 2010

The Power of a Timely Word

By: Robert J. Tamasy


Years ago a friend told me about participating in a meeting where his city’s leaders were debating the possibility of hosting an important gathering of people from around the world. Slowly the discussion had taken a decidedly negative turn. Officials fretted over possible problems – traffic snarls, violence, political demonstrations and other disruptions. The likelihood of this event being invited to the city was dimming by the moment.


My friend had refrained from speaking during the discussion until one committee member turned and said, “Ted, you’ve been quiet. What do you think?” His response was simple, consisting of eight words: “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean.” He did not elaborate, choosing to let those words sink in for a few moments.


Suddenly enlightened, someone reacted with excitement: “He’s right. Sure, there may be some problems, but I think the benefits of hosting this event would far outweigh any possible downside.” Almost immediately, discourse took a 180-degree turn, transforming the mood of the meeting.


The words my friend used came directly from an Old Testament passage, Proverbs 14:4, which in its entirety says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger (feeding trough) is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.” It was not until days later that a coworker bothered to ask the source of his pithy wisdom, but my friend’s words had gained the desired result.


The meeting’s dramatic shift had not required an elaborate speech or spirited, emotional appeal. The simple words had cut to the heart of the issue with surgical precision. Timely words, even when used with great economy, can have incredible power – as the Bible reminds us in many ways:


Sometimes, no words at all are best. Some people seem thrilled by the sound of their own voice, but silence can be the best “speech.” “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:28).


Say what is most appropriate for the moment. Just as Ted discovered, often it is the combination of what you say – and when you say it – that has the greatest impact. “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word” (Proverbs 15:23).


Speak with sincerity. Do you really believe what you are saying – and do you have the best interests of everyone at heart? Then your words will be properly received. “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction” (Proverbs 16:23).


Respond with reason, not anger. In the heat of a moment, fueled by emotion, we may speak words that we later regret. “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered” (Proverbs 17:27).


Express your own views with caution. Thanks to TV and radio talk shows, we are deluged by people with opinions on anything and everything. Everyone is talking – but few people seem to be listening. Listen before you speak. “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2).

Until next week!

Robert J. Tamasy is vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit corporation based in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. A veteran of more than 35 years in professional journalism, he is the author of Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace (River City Press) and has coauthored with David A. Stoddard, The Heart of Mentoring: 10 Proven Principles for Developing People to Their Fullest Potential (NavPress). For more information, see or

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