Do you find that you get stuck for words or struggle to find exactly the right words to say in a specific situation? You’re certainly not Robinson Crusoe! Words are a powerful tool, but many people fling them around like they don’t matter. In fact, every word counts. Every word tells a story about you and creates an emotive response in the person listening.
Words can be weapons, and they can also be bridges that build great relationships with people - relationships that strengthen reputation and help to enhance business.
Emotions drive words.
In my workshop on confident communication, I do an exercise where participants pair up and I instruct them to have a conversation with their partner using only the numbers 1 to 10. I then suggest a particular emotion, for example I might say "angry", meaning they are to count to 10 in a very angry tone, or I might say "happy", "distracted", "bored"... you get the picture.
Halfway through the exercise I invite them to add adjectives to their counting (I do ask them to keep it clean!) If they’re taking an angry tone they start to use angry-type words to describe the numbers as they count them out. If they're happy, they use language that reflects that mood.
People really get into this exercise and it quickly takes over their entire physiology. Their body language, tone of voice, the volume and pace at which they speak, are all dramatically impacted by taking on the emotion that's suggested to them. It’s interesting that when I say "confident", everyone in the room visibly lifts their posture; their shoulders go back, their heads go up, their tone and volume become more measured.
It's fascinating that a simple suggestion can have such an impact on every part of the way a person communicates. It means that if you are going into a situation where you’re not feeling confident, you really CAN tell yourself you are confident and your body will respond. It's also interesting that the emotion the person takes on significantly influences the language that comes out of their mouth.
Put simply, if you tell yourself "I am feeling happy", it’s difficult for nasty, cutting words to be uttered from your lips. On the other hand, if you psych yourself up to feel angry and sarcastic, it's more difficult to use mild, moderate adjectives. Our mood and emotion colour the words we speak, which is why it’s so important to manage our internal state before we go into important conversations or interactions.
What state is your mind in? Are you focused on the situation at hand and feeling positive, calm and confident? If not, your negative or agitated state is likely to come across in the language you use, even without you realising it. The person you’re speaking to will pick up on that, which in turn may well influence their response. The outcome of the conversation might be very different unless you do some simple preparation to get into the right state of mind - and that could be as basic as suggesting a positive mood to yourself.
I’m not proposing that you go through life pretending to be something you’re not. But for a short period and in a specific situation, you can inject a positive mindset that will influence the way you speak - and very likely get a better result.
Words have different weight
Do you know someone who exaggerates whenever they open their mouth? That becomes really tedious and it affects their credibility; you find it hard to take them seriously because you know they always inject an extra 20% of drama into everything they're talking about.
Certain words, like "never" and "always", can carry a lot of weight. Exaggerated language, such as describing an incident as "a disaster", "the worst day of my life" etc give us nowhere to go because we've already put ourselves at the extreme end of the description.
That drastic kind of language is common, and it can have a negative impact on our communication. It makes people take us less seriously and we can come across as being a "drama queen". It might also make us sound more aggressive than we intend to be, and it can be exhausting for the other person in the conversation because you seem to be continually swept up in so much drama and conflict.
Rather than being language extremists, we can introduce more moderate words. Instead of saying "the meeting was a disaster and I can never show my face in front of that team again" a better option might be, "that meeting didn’t go as well as I hoped and I’m now going to work on reconnecting with people in that team". Both statements have a similar meaning but a very different impact, because the weight of the words is more moderate in the second sentence.
A good exercise is to listen to yourself and try to notice whether you're someone who tends to exaggerate or use drastic language. If you are, try introducing more moderate words. Move away from absolute statements and the conversation is more likely to have a positive outcome.
Imagine yourself in the conversation
Another way to be aware of your language and how you’re coming across, is to imagine yourself observing the conversation from a distance - almost like an out of body experience where you see yourself and the other person talking. This enables you to observe yourself from a detached point of view, where you're not emotionally connected to everything you’re saying. You can measure your words, using more moderate ones where necessary, and you won't react so strongly when the other person says something that pushes your buttons.
This takes practice and awareness. Most of the time when we have conversations, we're totally immersed in our own feelings. Often, when the other person is talking we’re already thinking about what we're going to say next. It's worth taking a step back and imagining you’re an onlooker to the conversation. That will give you a chance to adjust your language and make every word count in a positive way.
Most of the time we’re not consciously aware of the words we speak, but they have a big impact on us and the people around us. If you find that people tend to take you the wrong way, or they seem to overreact to what you're saying, it might be your words getting in the way. Monitor yourself, watch the reaction of others, and think about changing your language. Most importantly, remember that every word packs a punch. It's important to choose the right one for the right time and place.
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