You may have already heard; language is a powerful thing. The statements we breathe into existence can influence others, communicate our needs and express our love. Aside from their external impacts, our words have a subtle, almost sneaky ways of building us up, breaking us down, validating our experiences and negating them.
In this article, I will be discussing these subtleties. I will also touch on the practical changes you can make in your language today, in order to breathe confidence into your statements and yourself.
What are we trying to accomplish here exactly? In terms of the words that we utter, we are looking to go from negating to validating, doubtful to confident, passive to assertive and from unaccountability to ownership.
Watch Your Mouth: The J Word
Let’s consider the word “just” for a moment. How many times do you add the J word to your sentences?
Here are some examples:
- “I was just wondering if I could take the weekend off.”
- “I just wanted to see if you had a moment to discuss something.”
- “I was just wondering if you could send me the report.”
The use of the J word minimizes whatever follows. It’s basically another word for “sorry”. It is often used to soften the blow of whatever message or request we are relying. It reflects uncertainty and a lack of conviction in what could have been an assertion. “Just” demeans what you have to say. You don’t “just” need the report, you need the report, and you need it now! You aren’t “just” wondering if your friend is showing up for your lunch date, you want and need to know because YOUR time is valuable! See what I mean?
Here are the examples from before, this time with a hint of confidence, a sprinkle of validation and a dash of assertiveness:
- “Do we have staff coverage this weekend? I would like to take it off if possible.”
- “Do you have a second? I’d like to go over a couple things with you.”
- “Can you send me the report please? I need it by end of day.”
Letting go of the J word can increase your confidence and assertiveness. It also forces you to trust the words you are saying and deliver them in a way that reflects that.
“I” statements focus on the feelings of the speaker, instead of imposing traits onto the listener.
Consider the following examples:
- “Why don’t you ever answer your phone!?”
- “Maybe if you didn’t nag me so much, I would take out the trash. You're just like my mother!”
- “I know I should take out the garbage and your consistent reminders frustrate me.”
- “I worry and feel frustrated when you don’t return my calls”
The latter statements allow us to express ourselves without accusatory undertones and personal attacks on our listeners. The language in the final statements force us to take full responsibility of our thoughts and feelings.
It is in essence the shift from “you” to “I”. Unaccountability to ownership. Ownership of things that are inherently ours, our emotions!
You may have set out to tell a partner they’ve upset you by coming home late or communicating an office nuisance to a co-worker. Without taking possession of what you are expressing and instead projecting it onto them, your listeners may end up building a wall keeping you both from what could have been a productive conversation. Now you have a blender whose contents include speaker frustrations and listener defenses. A recipe for disaster.
The use of “I” statements won’t solve all your interpersonal problems, but they can position you to have fruitful and healthier communications. Communications that can promote a deeper level of emotional intimacy and understanding between you and the folks you interact with.
All or Nothing
The words “should” and “never” are the quintessential nomenclatures for attacking ourselves. They aim below the belt. Going after precious things such as our confidence and self-worth.
Before our words are verbalized, they are thoughts. These thoughts have the potential to be self-defeating, but just as easily can instill hope and confidence. With a bit of intentionality behind what we say to ourselves, we can bring attention to our strengths and alter our perspectives in healthy ways.
The idea of all or nothing thinking falls under the umbrella of cognitive distortions. These are falsehoods about who we are, what we are capable of and where we “should” be in our lives. Cognitive distortions evoke stress, anxiety and self-doubt.
Consider the following examples:
- “I’m not as quick as the other people in my office, it’s no wonder I wasn’t considered for the position as manager.”
- “I never send out the newsletter on time, everyone must think I’m an idiot.”
- “I should have gotten into Tobal University, I’m not even good enough to go to college.”
There are a couple of things missing from the statements above:
- They lack any sort of self-compassion for the speaker.
- They fail to account for external factors such as circumstances, resources, mental health, environment and level of social support.
- They make assumptions about what others are thinking of us. With, out, evidence. Read that again, assumptions, without merit! Shameless!
- They rule out all other possibilities, with zero consideration for other reasons or rational for the occurrences.
I want us to honor that these are the unhealthy places our minds gravitate to. Our brain has a negative bias and often needs reminding of the good in us and our lives. Despite set backs and missed shots. One set back or mistake does not define you, your abilities and most importantly, your worth. It is a solitary blip in your life. Sandwiched between your past which has stitched your beautiful soul together and the future which continues to sculpt you into the person you were meant to be.
In moments when things aren’t going exactly how we want them to or if we don’t get exactly what we want, when we want it, we go straight for the low blows. We automatically filter out the positives, because our mind is pre-occupied with what could have, “should” have been.
In these moments, my invitation to you, is to reflect the following in your language:
- Extend yourself grace.
- Talk to your self like a friend would.
- Consider the facts. Are the assumptions being made backed by concrete evidence?
- Counter act your brains negative brain bias. Take inventory of the positives, achievements and strengths.
- Go forth with grace and courage.
My invitation to you is to go out and implement some of these things in your day to day. Do so at a pace that feels safe to you. If using all three of these techniques feels too assertive and incredibly uncomfortable, try omitting the word “just” from your next email to start. Find a pace that pushes you, but not to the point where you are turned off by it. My hope is that these subtle changes in your language will build you up and instill self-belief. You can do this, I believe in you!
Kevin Angulo, MHP