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Choose Your Words Wisely

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug" —Mark Twain

Have you ever noticed how a word can be emotionally charged? Besides some of the obvious swear words, words that are absolutes,  like always and never, can sooooo push our buttons.

“You’re always late.”  “You never take out the trash.”  “Everyone is upset with you!”

When we use absolutes, we’re labeling people. And that typically puts people on the defensive. While they’re trying to defend that they aren’t always that way, they won’t be able to hear you. They miss the point you’re trying to make, and things typically get worse.

Get rid of the absolutes - and of course make sure the rest of the message is clear and with a helpful intent. Remember, it’s a two-way dialogue so expect to pause and listen.

Let’s see how we can change those sentences above:

“You're always late.” “You’ve been late a few times now Joe. How can we get you here on time, or early?”

“You never take out the trash.” “You haven’t taken the trash out for the past 3 weeks. How can I help you remember, without me telling you each time?”

“Everyone is upset with you.” “I’m upset with your behavior right now.”

Another problematic word is “but” because it negates what you just said. “I like what you did here but . . . ”  

We’re just waiting for the hammer to drop. People aren't going to be as open to what you are saying, and they won’t even get the positive part of your message. Try replacing the word “but” with “and”:  “I like what you did here, and it would be even better if you added more color.” Or you can leave it out: “I like what you did here. Could you add more color?” It really does change the tone and it helps people to be more open and hear your message.

Think of your words as tools: You can use them recklessly, or use them skillfully!


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