It’s a problem for me, and I suspect it may be for you. It prevents me from making good decisions, clouds my judgment, and is even capable of ruining my day.

I call it “the tyranny of the last word.” Let me illustrate how this works.

Have you ever noticed that, of all the voices we hear in the course of a day, or even a meeting, the last voice always seems to have the greatest power? Put another way, no matter how many voices we hear, the last word has a way of having the greatest impact.

You’ve just presented a report or finished a project, or preached a sermon, and 10 people tell you that you did a great job. Then the last person in line tells you what was wrong with it (a grammatical error, perhaps, or you mistakenly wore brown shoes with your charcoal-gray slacks).

Which one do you remember? That’s the power of the last word.

Or you’re in a meeting, trying to make a tough decision. Many decisions are not easy; they are choices between imperfect alternatives. Twelve thoughtful people weigh in with their perspectives, their ideas and their suggestions, but of course, not everyone agrees. The big guy in the corner, who has sat silently until now, finally unfolds his arms and weighs in with a strong opinion. You are swayed by the power of the last word, and so is everyone else, as if they have forgotten the other 12 perspectives.

Do you see why I have come to call this phenomenon “the tyranny of the last word”?

If you identify with this, let me offer a couple of suggestions.

First, while it is true that the opinions of others are important and worth paying attention to, I try not to give too much power over to others. After all, you can’t please all the people all the time — nor should you!

Take it from me. I’m the pastor of a church of almost 3,000 adult members. Most of the time I feel well supported and appreciated, but is everyone pleased with everything I do?

Guess again.

Leo Buscaglia once said, “Why is it that a hundred people can love you and one doesn’t like you, and what do you do? You forget the hundred and believe the one!” I need to hear criticism when it is constructive, but I cannot afford to focus on the negative. And that’s hard, when the negative has the last word.

Second, if you’re in a group that has to make a decision, give it some time if at all possible. Wait a day, and you will do better at balancing all the voices you heard, not just the last one. Experience has taught me that time is my friend, and that I’ll regret decisions made too quickly. I’ve also learned to listen to my own inner voice, the voice of my intuition. When I don’t, I often end up regretting that, too.

Finally, remember the hundred who love you. The other one probably doesn’t know you that well — or you remind him of his brother-in-law.

Blair Monie is senior pastor of the Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church. This column is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on the magazine’s “Worship” page. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.


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