As a writer and speaker, I look for the deeper meaning in the words I choose. It doesn't matter how long the words are or how difficult to spell or pronounce or how familiar they are to my audiences. Sometimes the simplest, most familiar words have incredible significance.

Someone compiled this list to illustrate what just 10 words can teach us. (I've searched for the identity of the writer, to no avail. If anyone can fill in that blank, I promise I will put that information out there.)

This list is very useful as an everyday guide. I've added my thoughts to the brief explanations. Here goes:

  1. The most selfish one-letter word — "I." Avoid it.

  2. The most satisfying two-letter word — "We." Use it.

  3. The most poisonous three-letter word — "Ego." Overcome or kill it.

  4. The most-used four-letter word — "Love." Value it.

  5. The most pleasing five-letter word — "Smile." Keep it.

  6. The fastest-spreading six-letter word — "Rumors." Ignore them.

  7. The hardest-working seven-letter word — "Success." Achieve it.

  8. The most enviable eight-letter word — "Jealousy." Distance it.

  9. The most powerful nine-letter word — "Knowledge." Acquire it.

  10. The most valued 10-letter word — "Friendship." Maintain it.

Let's combine the first and third words: "I" and "ego." In my opinion, you should use the word "you" 10 times for every time you say "I." Using "I" too often is an indication that you are more interested in yourself than in others. That's an instant turnoff.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Too much I, I, I is indeed selfish, but it's also like ego. Ego trips have a dangerous destination. I can still hear my parents saying, "Don't hang your hat higher than you can reach." And I can't forget my dad's stern advice: "It is far better to have other people say how great you are."

We — Whenever possible, say "we" instead of I. Include others in your accomplishments, activities and ideas. Especially in business, acknowledge the contributions of your peers. There's strength in numbers.

Love — The Beatles insisted "All you need is love," and I think that's a great start. Love may be the "most-used" four-letter word, and with good reason. You can love your family, love your neighbor, love your country, love your work and love life.

Smile — I learned years ago that one of the most powerful things you can do to have influence over others is to smile at them. I'm a big believer in the proverb "Don't open a shop unless you know how to smile." That's why I never underestimate the value of a smile. You shouldn't go to work without a smile — and that goes for your personal life too.

Rumors — The internet has brought gossiping up to warp speed. Someone calculated that if a rumor was started at midday and was repeated within two seconds by everyone who heard it to two other people who repeated it and kept the cycle going, by about 6:30 p.m. the same day everyone on Earth would have heard it.

Spreading rumors about co-workers can create a hostile environment that customers will pick up on. This is a good reason for avoiding gossip. I've seen many deals go down the tubes due to gossip.

Success — Success comes in many forms and means different things to different people. In the working world, it is often defined as landing the perfect job, achieving a targeted income level, occupying a corner office or owning a business.

My own formula for success includes dogged determination, focus and the ability to finish, daring to dream, owning mistakes and learning from them, looking at problems as opportunities and staying positive. Success is a journey, not a destination.

Jealousy — This word is pure poison. And we all know how deadly poison can be.

Knowledge — While the old theory that we use only 10% of our brains has been widely debunked, there's plenty of evidence that we can increase our brainpower, retention and focus. Books and websites offer all kinds of help. Check out every opportunity to broaden your horizons. Knowledge is power.

Friendship — The best ship to sail is friendship. I enjoy meeting new people because I get a different view of the world. I may not agree with everything I hear, but what a way to expand your mind.

Mackay's Moral: Words are powerful, no matter how you spell them.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.