Your Words are Sabotaging Your Message! – How to Change the Words You Use to Get Better Results (Part Two)
In the previous article, we looked out how the words you use can be interpreted as inflammatory – even if that’s not your intention. Making others feel defensive and causing unintentional upset creates problems for everyone concerned. Changing the words you use can make a world of difference to how your communications are received.
If you find that your conversations often escalate into conflicts: The things you say – and how you say them – may be distorting your intended message!
In the second part of this mini-series, we’ll look at some surprising statements and remarks that can have negative effects on the listener. We’ll look at how and why these seemingly innocuous statements are misunderstood. We’ll also make some suggestions as to how you can change the words you use to eliminate these problems.
Overly Dramatic Language
The use of dramatic words is unnecessary and can confuse the interpretation of your sentence. This is particularly the case if you have to deliver criticism:
“I’m extremely disappointed you missed this deadline.” sounds less of a threat when said as, “I’m disappointed you missed the deadline.” The word “extremely” is unnecessarily dramatic and doesn’t alter your meaning. Just the removal of one word from this sentence softens the impact of the criticism without detracting from the message.
Eliminate Dismissive Words
If someone requests something from you that’s important to him/her, don’t give the impression that you’re dismissing their concerns.
For example, if your manager asks you to do something and you reply, “I am far too busy at the moment.” This is easily interpreted as dismissive. A better reply would be, “I’m working on this right now but I will give that my priority as soon as I’m finished.” A change of words here doesn’t alter the message, but reduces the possibility of the reply being seen as dismissive.
Watch Out for Incendiary Language
“What value are you adding to this project?” – It’s a simple question, but may be perceived as a challenge to someone’s worth. An alternative, less inflammatory way of asking the same question is, “What is your role in this project?”
Similarly, “So, as I already said” – this can sound arrogant. An alternative is, “To recap…”
Answering a question with “Obviously” sounds like you are demeaning what the other person is saying, or asserting that you already know what they are telling you. Saying “Absolutely” confirms their statement and reinforces your agreement.
Avoid Cop-Out Statements
Answering a request to do something with, “I’ll try to get it done”, sounds uncertain and non-committal. If you aren’t sure that you’ll be able to do what’s being asked, it’s better to explain the situation. The same applies to “I’ll try my best” and “I’ll see what I can do”.
Change the Words You Use When Responding to Criticism
Sometimes, we all have to accept criticism. And it’s not always easy to react positively. However, responding flippantly can really infuriate the other person! For example, it’s difficult to know whether someone is being sincere when they say, “Sorry about that.”
If you deserve criticism, firstly acknowledge you understand you’ve acted incorrectly. A constructive way to then respond is to mirror the other person’s criticism before apologising. Then offer a reassurance you’ve taken their words seriously. For example, “I understand that doing X wasn’t the best thing to do. I apologise. It won’t happen again.”
Change Your Intonation
Your tone of voice has the potential to escalate conversation into conflict, especially if it’s combined with inflammatory language or criticism. As renowned American linguist, Suzette Elgin says, “English is a language in which hostilities and abuse are carried primarily by the melodies that go with the words, rather than by the words themselves.”
A single word carries multiple meanings depending on your tone. For example, someone asks, “How are you?” and you answer simply, “fine.” Depending on how you say ‘fine’, this can convey that you are feeling great, awful, busy, impatient, too busy to talk, tired or shocked they’ve even asked!
Another important aspect of how you say something is the stress pattern of a sentence. In English, sentences usually have one heavy stress. Two or more stresses often convey a hidden meaning. For example, read these two sentences out loud, putting the stresses as indicated by capitalisations: “What are you DOing?” and “WHAT are you DOing?” Even though the words are the same, the listener may interpret each example differently.
Communication seems like a minefield at times. We are such highly sensitive beings! Words and tone are automatically interpreted, so it’s easy to give someone the wrong impression. At work, that causes problems for everyone involved. The first step to improving your communication in this respect is to become aware of what you say and how you say it. If you notice your conversations are negatively impacted, change the words you use to get better results!
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