One of the first things I learned as a professional communicator is the words we use are only 7% of the communication process. Being such a small part of the entire process, how is it that words can make or break you?
Here are two specific ways your words can make a difference to your success. First is in the definitions you attach to words. Take any common word, “family,” for instance. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear that word? Ask other people the same thing and see how different the definitions are. This is true for almost any word you use. The block we run into is in assuming other people are using the same definitions as we are. Your power as a communicator can be enhanced or diminished by your assumptions. If there’s ever any doubt, clarify key word definitions. (This is becoming increasingly important as we are, more than ever, a global community. Not only are definitions important, so are translations.)
Second is the words you use and how they impact your inter- and intra- personal communication. In my work, I focus on words with clients. Words can limit you without your awareness – they can make you appear either strong or weak, active or passive, in control or a victim. Here are some of the words I encourage you to eliminate from your vocabulary and why:
This is probably the biggest energy drain and limiter in people’s vocabulary. We all say it and, when we do, we give somebody else control of our decisions and choices. Often, it’s Mom’s voice in your mind saying “You should…..” You’re an adult now and you can decide for yourself. When you hear “should” either in your mind or coming out of your mouth, ask yourself “According to whom should I do this?” Change the language to “I want.” If it’s something you really want to do, you’ll feel energized and excited. If, instead, you have a negative response, reconsider your choice or decision.
Another big offending word. If you say, “You know, Sam, that was a good job you did on the Peterson contract. But next time, be a little more aggressive with the numbers.” What you’ve done is discounted what you said before the “but”. Which part of your comment do you think Sam will hear and remember? When you feel a “but” coming on, one possible change is to make the “but” an “and” instead, or just eliminate the word completely.
This is so much a part of our vocabulary that we use it unconsciously. We try to do almost everything in our lives – from tasting new foods, to arriving on time, to attending an event. The list goes on forever. In reality, you never really try to do anything. You either do it or you don’t. When you use “try” you are communicating a lack of commitment to whatever the task or activity is. Think about it: If a friend tells you they’ll try to meet you for a drink after work do you really expect to see them? Take ownership of your choices, make a decision and stand by it. Don’t hide behind “try”. Yoda’s quote says it all: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
We all have needs and our desire is to have all our needs met. Unfortunately, we’ve integrated “need” into our vocabulary in a way that’s dis-empowering to us. How often do you say, “I need to go to the store for groceries,” or “I need a new outfit to wear to the party,” or “I need a new man/woman in my life”? There are two things that are troublesome here. First, when you say you need something, there’s a recognition of something missing for you. When you focus on what’s missing, you’re creating more of the same. The chances of having that need met are pretty slim. Second, if it’s truly a need, it will require specific attention and energy. The chances are your statement is more of a want – something positive you move toward. When you say you need something, look at your statement and decide if it’s something you want or is it really a need. Change your needs to wants.
CAN / CAN’T
I have a sign in my office that reads “Of course I can do it! . . . The question is, do I want to?!?” This is right to the point. You can do anything you want to. Take ownership for your choices by saying you will/won’t do something. Your message will be more powerfully heard because it’s your truth. Stop hiding behind can and can’t. You absolutely can.
These are only five words and they can change your communication drastically. Your challenge from me – for just one day (even one hour) notice how often you use these words. Then stop using them. Eliminate them from your vocabulary completely. Pay attention to how you feel with the change and to the way other people respond to you. Just eliminating these five little words will make you a more powerful communicator. You’ll reclaim your personal power and be more responsible for your life, your thoughts, and your actions.