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Every Word Has Power (Watching Your Language Can Change the Way You Feel at Work)

December 2, 2010

 

 

 

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.”
~George Gordon Byron

Words are powerful.

What we say reflects what we think.  Our spoken word originates in our thought.  Typically, most people don’t think consciously.  In fact, the common knowledge is that we use only about 10% of our brain’s capacity.  Long established habits that have formed hard wired neural networks often dominate our thought patterns – and consequently, our language.

Language is complex; neural patterns are shaped by our learned experiences which are influenced by cultural and social factors.  In turn, language influences experience. Some might say language defines our reality.  And what we say reinforces what we think – so the endless loop.

How we use our language in relation to our work can be particularly challenging.  Preoccupation with time, technology and interpersonal demands can create a high level of stress that can trigger us emotionally – and our language often mirrors our internal struggle

“I can’t talk now – I’m slammed with work.”

“Can’t do it – I am under the gun at work.”

“My time is not my own”

“This guy is a pain in my neck”

“What personal life?”

“It is what it is” *

These words and phrases are not idle or random. They reflect our internal dialogue – the endless self-talk that either deplete or restore our energy reservoirs.  Every word, every phrase you use programs your brain. The amazing plasticity of our brains is neutral – it can work for us – or against us.

Think of your language as a label for your experience.  Our common conditioning has unfortunately created a habit of labeling experience in two categories – this is good – and this is bad. As we have experiences, we tend to place them in those categories, unconsciously. Our languages supports this – “oh I figured this project would go nowhere – what a waste of time,” or “well that didn’t turn out as I would have liked but I am going to take what I’ve learned from it and move on.”

How we use our language is in effect branding our experience.  

Our Language Sets the Tone for our Communication

In the everyday banter of our communication, we tend to lose awareness of the words we use and why we are using them.  These habits can be particularly hard to break in the lexicon of the workplace. As we adapt to cultures, we tend to use more of the language of that culture, speaking in a sort of shorthand that we think is understood by those who share it.  Naturally, this is very common in close relationships and family systems, and even though many workplace relationships tend to replicate family connections, they have different emotional “stakes.”

A client’s recent example illustrated this well.  Bryan, a smart and well-intentioned manager, was hired 18 months before this incident  to manage a large group of people with an average of ten years of seniority in the company.  

 When the group’s long time administrative assistant, Margaret, passed away, Bryan made an “innocent”  comment to a colleague, Tina,  (with the group for over 10 years) that we need to “find a new Margaret.” Tina, who had been with the group as long as Margaret, had a strong reaction to Bryan’s comment.  But it wasn’t until months later that Bryan learned of Tina’s reaction to the comment.  Called into a meeting with his manager, Bryan was told that a number of team members felt he was “insensitive,” “callous” and “condescending.”  It appears that Tina had shared her reaction with some colleagues, who disturbed by the use of Bryan’s words, surfaced their own concerns and grievances about Bryan, that had been dormant.

Words have weight. They create impressions and make psychological connections.  We take for granted that other people “get” our meaning and intention, and we’re often surprised that  they do not.  The emotional weight of our words can activate emotional issues within others. That is why words are so powerful. According to Nan Russell, author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work-Your Way, “Poorly chosen words can kill enthusiasm, impact self-esteem, lower expectations and hold people back. Well chosen ones can motivate, offer hope, create vision, impact thinking and alter results. “

Your language impacts others – and it impacts you.  How much negativity has crept into your language? How is language reflecting – and defining your experience?

Whether it is the language of frustration, fear, anger, blame, resentment, complaint, disappointment, worry or doubt – your language is either disempowering you (and possibly others in the process) or energizing you.

In essence, all of our language is a statement of judgment – little is neutral. We are commenting on our experience of the world. Listening more carefully and deeply to our language gives us powerful insights about our internal world.  Our language is a blueprint to our inner life.  Let’s use it wisely.

* About the phrase “it is what it is” – the use of this phrase is becoming more widespread lately. I originally thought of it as kind of Zen-like – a mindful  acceptance and recognition of things happening outside our control that we have come to terms with.    I’m now thinking that the phrase is more reflective of passivity, a victim like resignation.  Heard the phrase used? Maybe you use it? If so, I’d love to hear what you think about it’s deeper meaning.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2010 12:50 pm

    Louise: I find each of your postings very thoughtful and really appreciate the time and energy you must put into them. Sometimes I wonder whether the readers in general appreciate the profound importance of the fundamental messages you convey each time you write.

    Thanks for doing what you do.

    • December 2, 2010 1:59 pm

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you SO MUCH for your kind comments. It is so rewarding to hear. I only wish we could post more – because there are so many important issues to cover. Actually, one of the things that inspired us to blog was reading the thoughtful – and obviously heartfelt posts of others. And another one of the benefits of putting in the time and effort to blog and read others is the discovery of bloggers like you who bring such wisdom and integrity to the process.

      thanks again for the inspiration!
      Louise

  2. April 28, 2011 6:45 am

    Hi Louise, I am in agreement with you on that phrase, “It is what it is” I do believe it does stem from a passive, victim-oriented mentality. As if, the person uttering it can do no more- if they have tried to do anything at all. It is an utterance for someone who has given up or given in to the status quo and I dislike when people use this term. I am a firm believer in LOA and this term will not be used in my vocabulary and I try not to associate with people who use it. I firmly believe that our thoughts impact our actions which leads to our experiences in the world. Thanks for writing on this. It has been a peeve of mine for a while.

    • April 28, 2011 9:01 am

      Hi Allie,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. And so glad you picked up on the Words have Power post. It still gets a lot of hits because I really think, like you, that people resonate with have much impact our words have. Our language is such an expression of our thinking and most important, our inner life.
      thanks again and I look forward to hearing other comments from you,
      Best,
      Louise

  3. October 13, 2012 10:18 am

    This post reminds me of an interview to Danny Wallace. He was talking about his novel and the importance of saying Yes more often. With our hectic everyday life we usually do not pay attention to how often we refuse invitations and offers by friends and acquaintances, too lazy or tired to escape a well-known routine.
    So, his novel was the tale of how his life had changed since he had decided to adopt a more positive attitude and to begin saying Yes. It changed his life.
    Thanks for this post, I think I’ll pay more attention to my words in the future.

  4. October 13, 2012 10:20 am

    This post reminds me of an interview to Danny Wallace. He was talking about his novel and the importance of saying Yes more often. With our hectic everyday life we usually do not pay attention to how often we refuse invitations and offers by friends and acquaintances, too lazy or tired to escape a well-known routine.
    So, his novel was the tale of how his life had changed since he had decided to adopt a more positive attitude and to begin saying Yes. It changed his life.
    Thanks for this post, I think I’ll pay more attention to my words in the future.

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