Frank A. Patterson Jr.? Maya Angelou? Carl W. Buehner? Carl W. Buechner? Carol Buchner? Don Aslett? Jerry Johnston? Anonymous?
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
This statement has been attributed to Carol Buchner, Maya Angelou, and others. The essential insight is that a skilled communicator must be aware of the emotional valence of his or her words. Would you please explore the history of this quotation?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1971 collection titled “Richard Evans’ Quote Book”. The statement was ascribed to Carl W. Buehner who was a high-level official in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: 1
They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
—Carl W. Buehner
Richard L. Evans who compiled the set of quotations was also a prominent figure in the LDS church. For more than forty years he was the program narrator for the weekly radio and television broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir called “Music and the Spoken Word”. Evans presented three-minute sermonettes addressing a variety of themes. 2 3 The book’s subtitle indicated that some material was from these broadcasts:
Selected from the “Spoken Word” and “Thought for the Day” and from many inspiring thought-provoking sources from many centuries.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1989 the saying was used as a chapter epigraph in “The Marketing Sourcebook for Small Business” by Jeffrey P. Davidson. The words and ascription matched those given eighteen years earlier: 4
They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
CARL W. BUEHNER
In 1990 a newspaper in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania described a course called “Effective Use of Language” offered by Frank A. Patterson Jr. and sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. Patterson presented the adage without an ascription using an alternate phrasing. Boldface has been added: 5
“Keep in mind that people forget the words you speak to them, but remember how you have made them feel, and you’ll get what you want more often.”
In 1991 the best-selling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. released a compilation titled “Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff”. The book printed a set of comical and astute sayings from individuals who were identified only by age.
The set of statements did not include the quotation under investigation; however, these sayings together with the quotation were later reassigned to the well-known memoirist and poet Maya Angelou as shown in the March 2003 citation listed further below. This citation helps to illuminate the evolution of the quotation and its attribution. Here is a sampling of four remarks from Brown’s book: 6
I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy holiday, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. —Age 52
I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die. —Age 53
I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. —Age 64
I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be a pain. —Age 82
In 1993 a columnist in a trade publication called “Computer-Aided Engineering” printed the saying and attributed it to the author of a book on speechmaking: 7
Speaking is like conducting an orchestra; but instead of music, you are directing emotions. In one of my favorite books on speaking (Is There a Speech Inside You? Writer’s Digest Books), Don Aslett says, “People may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”
In November 1993 a columnist in a Salt Lake City, Utah paper reflected on his long-term experience as a scribe and presented the adage using different phrasing without attribution: 8
After 14 years of writing this column, I have discovered a truth. So listen up, there won’t be another until 2007. The truth is this: People seldom remember exactly what you wrote; what they remember is how you made them feel.
In 1995 a newspaper in Owensboro, Kentucky reported on a speech delivered at the Missionary Baptist Church that included a variant of the saying: 9
“People will forget what you did,” Hankins said. “People will never forget how you made them feel.”
The ascription to Carl W. Buehner continued to circulate. For example, in January 1996 “The Rotarian” published an article titled “Talking Points: Tips for the Savvy Speechmaker” that affirmed the connection to Buehner: 10
As speechmaker Carl W. Buehner said, “They may forget what you said—but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
In May 2000 a Cedar Rapids, Iowa newspaper printed a profile of a local teacher under the title “Educator of the Week”. The teacher spoke a variant of the expression with the word “children” instead of “people” or “they”: 13
“This saying has been the guiding force in my classroom teaching, ‘Children may not remember what you’ve taught them but they’ll remember how you made them feel,'”
In October 2000 a North Carolina newspaper reprinted a widely-distributed heartfelt tale of a cabdriver transporting an elderly woman to a hospice. There are multiple versions of this story, and in this version the coda included an instance of the saying: 14
But great moments often catch us unaware—beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one. People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
By 2003 a message was circulating that implausibly reassigned several remarks from the 1991 book by H. Jackson Brown Jr. to Maya Angelou. In addition, the quotation under study was appended to this group. QI believes this ascription to Angelou was unsupported and inaccurate.
In March 2003 a columnist in a Georgia newspaper printed material from the widely-disseminated message. Note that Angelou’s 70th birthday was in 1998, and that was seven years after Brown’s book was published: 15
And to cheer you further along this day, someone sent me a couple of writings of Maya Angelou which are great for sharing. On the occasion of this gifted lady’s 70th birthday last year she wrote: …
I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights….
“I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life….
“I’ve learned… that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands … you’ll need to throw something back….
“I’ve learned that… that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one … that people will forget what you said … what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
In July 2003 a newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin printed the quotation with an ascription to Angelou. In this account the time of composition was shifted from the Angelou’s 70th year to her 75th year: 16
Maya Angelou, poet, author, producer, issued a list of things she has learned in 75 years of living. Among other things, she said that “I’ve learned I still have a lot to learn.” She also said, “People will forget the things you do, and people will forget the things you say. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
In 2004 a book for school teachers titled “The Arts Go To School” printed the adage in a sidebar and attributed the words to Angelou: 17
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
A 2006 work titled “The Quotable Manager: Inspiration for Business and Life” included the saying. But the attribution misspelled the last name “Buehner” as “Buechner”: 18
THEY MAY FORGET WHAT YOU SAID, BUT THEY WILL NEVER FORGET HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL. Carl W. Buechner
In 2014 a blog included an instance of the adage with an interesting attribution. QI hypothesizes that the name “Carol Buchner” was derived from an incorrect transcription of the spoken name “Carl W. Buechner” or “Carl W. Buehner”: 19
“They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
In conclusion, based on current evidence QI suggests that Carl W. Buehner can be credited with this adage. Many people have used the saying without ascription in the years after 1971. The attribution to Maya Angelou is unsupported at this time.
Image Notes: Podium graphic from OpenClips on Pixabay. Salt Lake Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah from Library of Congress image collection via Wikimedia Commons. Tragedy and Comedy drama masks from Nemo on Pixabay.
Update History: On April 25, 2014 the citation for 1989 was added.
(Special thanks to Andrew Old whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Great thanks to the librarians at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah for help verifying the 1971 citation.)
- 1971, Richard Evans’ Quote Book by Richard L. Evans, (“Selected from the ‘Spoken Word’ and ‘Thought for the Day’ and from many inspiring thought-provoking sources from many centuries”) Quote Page 244, Column 2, Publishers Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Verified with scans; thanks to the librarians of Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah) ↩
- Website: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Webpage title: History of Music and the Spoken Word, Date on website: Undated, Website description: Information about The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Accessed mormontabernaclechoir.org on April 5, 2014) link ↩
- 1976, The Worth of a Smile: Spoken Words for Daily Living by J. Spencer Kinard, Section: Preface, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1989, The Marketing Sourcebook for Small Business by Jeffrey P. Davidson, (Chapter 2 epigraph), Quote Page 21, Published by John Wiley & Sons, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1990 November 14, Gettysburg Times, Chamber to host ‘relating’ course (Frank Patterson communications course), Quote Page 12B, Column 1, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1991, Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff, Written and compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., “luggage” Quote Page 85, “parents” Quote Page 31, “mitt” Quote Page 47, “pains” Quote Page 25, Published by Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee. (Items have been selected and ordered to match the sequence in the March 2003 Maya Angelou citation) (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1993 January, Computer-Aided Engineering, Volume 12, Issue 1, Computer-Aided Engineer: Present or Perish by Joel Orr, Quote Page 54, Column 3, Published by Penton Business Media, Inc. and Penton Media Inc., Cleveland, Ohio. (ProQuest ABI/Inform) ↩
- 1993 November 26, The Deseret News, Section: Today, Tone of Voice Stirs Readers Long After Clever Words Fade by Jerry Johnston (Columnist), Quote Page C1, Salt Lake City, Utah. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩
- 1995 January 16, Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, King’s message applies to all of us, speaker says, Quote Page 1C, Owensboro, Kentucky. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩
- 1996 January, The Rotarian, Volume 168, Number 1, Talking Points: Tips for the Savvy Speechmaker by Robert W. Shoemaker Jr., Start Page 14, Quote Page 15, Published by Rotary International. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1999 June 30, Rockford Register Star, (Freestanding quotation spanning several columns), Quote Page 3E, Column 2 to 7, Rockford, Illinois. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1999 July 2, Rockford Register Star, (Freestanding quotation spanning several columns), Quote Page 10C, Column 2 to 7, Rockford, Illinois. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 2000 May 22, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Top of the Class: Educator of the Week: Judy Schenkelberg, Quote Page 6B, Column 3, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 2000 October 30, Gaston Gazette, An old lady, a cab ride and one redeeming moment by Bill Williams, Quote Page 2A, Column 5, Gastonia, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 2003 March 25, Carolina Morning News, Section: Bluffton Bulletin, Column: Beautiful Bluffton By the Sea, Spring Has Sprung Around Town by Carolyn Bremer, Page 3, Newspaper Location: Georgia. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩
- 2003 July 22, The Capital Times, Women Need to Feel Good About Themselves by Barbara Quirk, Section: Lifestyle, Quote Page 4D, Madison, Wisconsin. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩
- 2004, The Arts Go To School: Classroom-based activities that focus on music, painting, drama, movement, media, and more, Edited by David Booth and Masayuki Hachiya, (Sidebar quotation), Quote Page 14, Published by Pembroke Publishers, Markham, Ontario, Distributed by Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, Maine. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2006, The Quotable Manager: Inspiration for Business and Life, Compiled by Joel Weiss, Quote Page 19, Gibbs Smith, Publisher, Layton, Utah. (Google Books Preview) ↩
- Website: First Year of Headship, Article title: “Back into the classroom…”, Date on website: March 18, 2014, Website description: Blog with opinions of a Headteacher, (Accessed headsmart.wordpress.com on February 4, 2014) ↩