WORDS ARE POWERFUL.
They can help or hurt you. They can get you positive results or break your heart. Your words create your reality. When you speak, you engage in a performative act. Speaking is performing—meaning your can make something happen. Promises, requests, offers, or words to persuade are performances that provoke action. You use words as a means to get people to do things for you, endear yourself to people, make people like you, buy your services, or countless other motivations.
Hate speech can hurt you. Help speech can reshape your world and produce sustainable results. Your words, body language, and emotions form a triangle through which you interpret the world. By changing the interpretation of this triangle, you shift the resulting behavior and the effect. Simple statements, such as saying thank you more often and offering words of encouragement, have a positive effect on people. To boost productivity, use the word imagine. “How do you imagine this project progressing?” This engages people and decreases stress because creativity and curiosity are being generated, and people are motivated to speak up.
Another step to open up the lines of communication is to use requests and offers. For example, you can say, “Is there anything else I can offer you?” and “Do you have any other requests?” This allows people to open up and reveal the chatter in their head (or what they really want), thus providing transparency in communication and removing hesitancy to speak up. Encouraging people to communicate openly creates a positive culture and enables people to move out of inertia and display talents. Transparency—speaking directly to the point—gets results.
Be direct. When you speak directly, your communication hits the bulls-eye; no translation is needed. Getting to this stage takes practice, courage, and the self-awareness to speak the truth in spite of inevitable criticisms. Take an active role by taking responsibility to hear the other person. Ask “you” questions to display an interest and other-centeredness: “What is your assessment of the situation?” Guard your tone. Take responsibility for how your language affects others. People often remember your words more than your actions.
Be aware of indirect communication.
Be aware of the effects of indirect communication, such as when someone: walks away, shaking his head because he felt it wasn’t safe to respond; dictates by providing an answer without asking a question; finishes the other person’s sentence; makes more statements with “I” than asking questions with “you.” Unless you review the power of language, you become stuck by giving yourself labels. You might say to yourself, I will fail, or I’m incapable, and this language can paralyze you. You have to be jolted before you initiate internal reflection.
Avoid communication breakdowns.
A breakdown occurs if you are suddenly jolted out of your automatic action—requiring you to assess your circumstances. Communication breakdowns happen when you don’t think about your words or their lingering effect. Any habitual response is automatic and falls into consistent, unconscious patterns, such as resorting to a conversation around old stories that keep you stuck in the past. For example, if you say, “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done!” the receiver will likely have an internal breakdown—we all want to feel appreciated and valued for our contribution. You might say, “How do you envision achieving the task?” This keeps passion alive.
Communication breakdowns can also lead to ambiguity—the inability to confront brutal facts and act with conviction to resolve them. Much ambiguity comes from lack of clarity and direction. To avoid ambiguity: Make your choices strong and clear. Confront uncomfortable truths. Act with conviction and resolve. Take responsibility for the role you play and how you communicate with others. Set aside differences, and focus the dialogue on the results. Express your point of view clearly. Be careful of mixed messages, such as telling people to speak up, take a stand, and take risks, yet rewarding playing it safe! Language-induced breakdowns often result from messages being delivered in a command-and-control style—authoritative language that puts others down and makes assumptions. This style comes across as though you are giving orders and won’t listen to questions.
Communicate your expectations clearly. Don’t expect the receiver to know exactly what you expect in the outcome and what you mean. Instead, you need to say directly, “I have expectations that you will do this and that.” Unclear expectations result in wasted time and unnecessary tension. Design conversations that coordinate action, such as requesting someone to stop using words that put you down and cause shame, blame, and diminishing self-esteem. A coordinated action lives in promises, such as “I promise to complete the task by 5 p.m. today.”
Speaking up. Speaking up and clarifying your position is taking appropriate action. Language brings us together and enables us to live together. Problem solving is a dialogue—with yourself or another person. Try being vulnerable by using the word confess. When you don’t have the answer, try saying, “I confess that I don’t know (have) the answer, but I promise that I will get back to you by 11 a.m. tomorrow morning with the answer. Will that work for you?”
Your relationships are defined by the conversations you have or don’t have with the people in your life, and you can determine the quality of your relationships by analyzing the conversation: “How do I create my conversations?” “Do I blame people or circumstances? Do I take responsibility to speak up to air the truth?” Wonder about what the behavior may be and listen for concerns. Wonderment lives in the ability to connect with the essence or core of the other person because of the effect you have on them. What draws you to some people and not others? Much of the pull has to do with the communication connection.
As you alter the language that shapes your choices, you enable transformation. Transformation boils down to effective communication. Think about your language. The words you choose can submerge you into negativity or elevate you to a higher consciousness—and take others with you. That’s the power of language!
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Sandra Ford Walston is known as The Courage Expert and innovator of StuckThinking™. She is an organizational effectiveness consultant, speaker, trainer and courage coach. She is the internationally published author of bestseller COURAGE The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman (2001), the follow-up book STUCK 12 Steps Up the Leadership Ladder (2010) and the recently released FACE IT! 12 Obstacles that Hold You Back on the Job (2011). She is certified in the Enneagram and MBTI®. Please visit www.sandrawalston.com.
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