Words matter!

Ever told yourself you are rubbish or really bad at something? How did you feel? Have you, on the other hand, declared to yourself you are awesome? How was that?!

Our language REALLY matters. Is there anything you feel that you ‘should’ do? Try changing it subtly. What happens if you change that same thing into something you ‘could’ do.

What we say and think, the way we say it and think it makes a physical difference to us. It changes our understanding and our internal chemistry.

What we say affects what we do

The things we say affect how we feel and the things we feel affect what we do.

When your language doesn’t support you, life will be more challenging. The way you talk to yourself and other people affects how motivated you are to do something. It changes the energy around things. When you want to do something, use language that encourages you. If you want to engage other people the same thing applies.

A skill that can be learned?

We were recently in a team meeting and one of the team pointed out how nuanced Rose’s and my language is. They highlighted how their language had changed as a result of working with us. In that moment we realised it hasn’t always been this way.

I have a long-held family reputation for being able to put both feet into a situation! However, the more I have experienced how our speaking affects how we work the more I have developed a more helpful way of communicating both with myself and other people. Working with like-minded people has helped enormously and Rose is exemplary at choosing words carefully.

Our brain and the negative

Our brain can’t distinguish positive from negative. When you tell your child not to jump in a puddle what their brain is focused on is jumping in a puddle. If I ask you not to picture a pink elephant I am confident that you have just visualised exactly that!

If we want to help someone change their thoughts or behaviour, we help them most when we state exactly what it is we would like them to do.

What are you communicating at work?

What do your policies and procedures look like? Do they describe how you want people to behave or do they focus on the things you don’t want people to do?

Where do you want your focus and the focus of the people around you to be? Do you use this as a starting point in all your communication, both written and spoken?

Own it

Today I was with a new group of people on one of our sessions and was asking them about their experiences. As they responded they talked generically – “when you look around, you notice…” I invited them to own it, changing the sentence to “when I look around, I notice…” This subtle change enabled them to experience the situation differently.

The only person we are truly qualified to comment on is ourselves. Perhaps someone has done something and you feel upset. Telling them “you upset me” tends not to be that helpful and the person will generally respond in one of two ways – to defend themselves by putting up a fight, or to (metaphorically) flee. Neither position is particularly helpful to good communication.

Here’s an example you might try if you’re a parent. Next time your child dumps their stuff in the hall and leaves it there, say something like “I notice when stuff is left in the hall I feel frustrated as I feel as though there is more for me to do and I don’t feel able to relax until things are away in the right place.” Try exploring how you might say things using “I” instead of “you”.

What I notice is that sometimes just acknowledging my experience of a situation is enough to give me a new insight. At other times I get clear about what I want to say – owning it gives the other person more opportunity to respond rather than react. I honestly believe that swapping ‘you’ for ‘I’ has the power to save relationships.

Clearly ask for what you want

This is something marketers do so well. As they write, as they show you images, as they speak to you, they are telling you what they want you to do.

If it’s something that resonates with you they make it really easy for you to take that action and you can use this knowledge to your advantage in all your communication.

When you sign off your emails state your expectations – “I look forward to hearing your response by Friday”.

When you talk to your child – “thank you for putting your plate in the sink when you finish your tea”.

At work – “I would appreciate that report by Monday, would that work for you?”

Ask with expectation but not attachment (and that is a whole other blog for another day!)

No such thing as right and wrong

Do you use black and white language? Do you state things as definitely one way or another, right or wrong?

This can lead to inflexible and limited thinking. When we make generalisations like ‘everyone does that’ or ‘this always happens’ we are potentially wrong. By asking ‘is that true?’ or ‘is that always true?’ or ‘does everyone think that?’ we open ourselves up to more ideas and possibilities.

Not just how but what

I had a moment the other day when I was frustrated about something my husband had done (I can’t even remember what it was now).

What I do remember though is the thought process I went through. I was contemplating whether I wanted to communicate my frustration or whether there was a request I could make that may prevent it happening again. Then it came to me in a flash of inspiration that if I didn’t mention it at all I would have more time to talk about things that we love, things that are important and things we enjoy sharing. I got that I could choose.

Carelessness can come at a cost

My daughter and I mostly have a great relationship. She usually tells me most things. When she came home from a date recently I happened to be leaving the room at the time. My words to her were ‘wait till I come back, I want to hear all gossip’.

A lot of eye rolling and ‘I’m not going to tell you anything’ was the start of three days of silence. I’m quite clear that I’m never going to please all the people all of the time and there are moments I’ll get things wrong, but a considered ‘I would appreciate you waiting till I get back as I care about whether you have enjoyed your day’ may have prevented the ensuing cold shoulder!

Eight top tips for having your words work for you

  1. Change should to could
  2. Use ‘I’ much more, particularly when talking about your experience of something
  3. State the behaviour you do want
  4. Be specific wherever possible
  5. Ask yourself ‘is what I am saying true?’
  6. Consider what you are seeking to achieve in your communication before you speak or write
  7. Say less
  8. Be confident that, with practice, you can make your words work for you and the people around you.

Let us know how you get on or, if you have any questions and comments, we’d love to hear from you. So get in touch and join us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and LinkedIn.

written by

Ruth Steggles

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