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How do the following phrases make you feel?

You must…You should…You have to…

Now, compare how these following phrases make you feel:

You can…You will…You are…

The following story is a great example of just how much words matter.

My best friend and I speak often. She has a very strong, direct personality. I like these qualities about her because I like to know where I stand. I realized though, I started avoiding telling her things because her directness was pushing some hot buttons for me. I started paying attention to what that was about for me.

One day we got into it when I shared my struggles with my teenager. Her response was, “you need to do this…” and he has to….” I realized it felt as though she was telling me what I should, need, have to, must DO. I barked at her, “Stop telling me what to do.” I found myself not able to hear her, even though she has raised her own teen, wants to help, and has good suggestions.

My friend’s drive to help me solve problems is a welcome quality; the way she presents herself negates it for me.

After expressing myself forcefully she opened up and shared how people get turned off by her because of her “strong ways.” She strongly and emotionally stated, “This is the way I am, and this is my tone of voice; I have opinions and am not afraid to express them, so people are just going to have to live with it.” Yet, I recognized the anguish it caused her that people get upset and turned off by her ‘way’.

We talked it out and realized it was a matter of words – because words matter.

I asked her to try and use different words to express the same opinion. For example, She changed, “You should just tell him he has to do what you say” to, “What will happen if you put your foot down?” The first phrase challenged me and put me on the defensive. The latter phrase empowered and supported me in finding a solution.

The words “should”, “could”, “but”, “try”, and “need”, for example, offer unconstructive connotations. Words such as “how”, “imagine”, “wonder”, for example, offer possibilities for consideration and a new approach. Now, when I tell my friend my teenager is going off the deep end, her words present possibilities rather than demands.

Changing the words, changed it for me as the receiver. I was able to hear her concerns and her counsel. As the speaker, my friend has had success with others as well. She shared, “when I can remember to use positive language, my interactions with others is completely different.”

Seems simple enough, BUT AND it takes practice; first it takes remembering to do it. Clear, forward-moving communication is a skill, and skills take practice to incorporate into one’s inherent behavior.

Action Step: Practice eliminating one negative word at a time from your vocabulary such as “should” and replace it with an empowering word such as “imagine.” You SHOULD will be able to observe how it transforms your communication and positively impacts outcomes with others.

Emily Bass inspires great leadership by seeing the potential in others and helping them move forward among the challenges of the work place and in learning environments. She is currently fulfilling her passion to make the dreams of success for others come true through her Adventure Leadership SummitAssessment-Based Executive Coaching and Essential Skills Workshops.