Are Your Words Sabotaging Your Message? – How to Change the Words You Use to Get Better Results (Part One)
Do you feel that people misunderstand you? Are your comments about employees’ performance received as harsh when that isn’t your intention? Do you ‘put people’s backs up’ during discussions when you don’t mean to? Change your words to see an improvement in how your suggestions and directions are received.
The words you use could be sabotaging your messages!
Your tone of voice is key to how people interpret what you have to say, but the words you use play a large part too. When you’re unintentionally using inflammatory words in communications, people are likely to react negatively to what you say.
In this article, we’ll look at two words that commonly trigger people to feel offended, threatened or angry. We’ll also look at how to think before you speak so that you change the words you use to stop this happening.
The Accusatory ‘YOU’
Beginning a sentence with the word ‘you‘ can immediately make someone feel accused and threatened. Their reaction is usually to feel intimidated or defensive, which can quickly turn the discussion into a conflict.
Examples of Accusatory You Statements
“You are behind on this project.”
“You have been late too often this month.”
“You haven’t performed well with this task.”
There’s a useful trick to change your words so you get your point across without necessarily being perceived as accusatory. It’s called using I-statements. I-statements enable you to communicate a problem to another person without directly accusing them of being the cause of the problem. Changing the comment so you’re talking about how someone’s actions affect you eliminates much of the reason for the other party to get defensive.
The aim is to change the statement to be from your own perspective. A ‘you‘ statement can be challenged, but it’s more difficult for someone to challenge a statement about how their behaviour makes you feel.
Examples of I-Statements in Action
“You are behind on this project” becomes “I’m feeling concerned about progress on this project.”
“You have been late too often this month” becomes “I’m curious if there’s something that’s affecting your punctuality lately.”
“You haven’t performed well with this task” becomes “I’m interested to know if you have any ideas for improving your performance with this task.”
Of course, be careful not to come across as being sarcastic when using I-statements. That never goes down well!
The Demoralising ‘But’
Sometimes the change of a single word can make a big difference to a statement’s reception. The word ‘but‘ is almost always perceived as being a precursor to bad or negative news. This has the effect of cancelling out whatever positive part of the statement preceeded its use. The listener is likely to feel deflated and demoralised. It’s a common perception that mentioning the positive aspects before the negative issues is the best method of delivering this kind of message, but it can backfire.
Being able to underline areas that need improvement to those you manage is crucial. However, people rarely respond well to criticism. Your statement has a better chance of being received favourably if you change your words slightly.
Examples of the Demoralising But
“You did a great job on the report but it wasn’t detailed enough in the conclusion.”
“You’re doing well in your new role but you need to improve your referrals.”
“I think you’re a good communicator but you don’t seem to be able to work with this manager.”
Change Your Words
Let’s look at a better way to communicate these points. Note the replacement of ‘but‘ with ‘and‘ and the change of angle from a negative criticism to a positive suggestion for improvement:
“You did a great job on the report but it wasn’t detailed enough in the conclusion” becomes “You did a great job on the report and it will be even better with more detail in the conclusion.”
“You’re doing well in your new role but you need to improve your referrals” becomes “You’re doing well in your new role and improving your referrals is a good thing for you to aim for now.”
“I think you’re a good communicator but you don’t seem to be able to work with this manager” becomes “I think you’re a good communicator and let’s have a talk about how to improve your communications with this manager.”
It’s quite easy to see how the two negative-impact words outlined in this article are sometimes received as inflammatory. But it’s not always as obvious! In the next part of this series, we’ll look at some surprising statements capable of triggering negative reactions and how to change your words to eliminate the problems they can cause.
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