Watch Your Words

Watch Your Words


Most adults know that certain words are appropriate to certain situations — very few people would use the same vocabulary when chatting with the boss, versus grandma, versus a good friend.

However, even apart from slang and obscenities, certain words may evoke an unintentional reaction in your audience, regardless of your tone or the setting, and hinder communication:

  • Absolute Language: Always/Never:  Almost nobody always or never does something besides existing or being a human.  These words sound a lot more judgmental and/or hyperbolic than saying “often,” “tend to,” or “I noticed you didn’t…”
  • Accusatory Language: Some phrases tend to sound more like an indictment than an honest question, comment, or criticism.  “You did XYZ!” is an accusation; ” versus “Did you XYZ?  Why?”
  • Judgmental Language:  Some words just sound like the banging of a judge’s gavel.  Ridiculous, bad, stupid, wrong, ugly, are all fairly subjective adjectives that are usually perceived as extremely dismissive.  Tempering the message with things like “this isn’t quite what we’re looking for” or “not my style” or “I think you misunderstand” creates a far more open dialogue.
  • Facts vs Opinions:  Simple works like “is” and “are” can be very powerful.  Unless you’re talking about something completely objective, prefacing your opinion with something as simple as “I think” or “in my view” can make difficult or controversial subjects much easier to discuss.
Did I just hear you say that?!

It helps to consider the specific words you use, even in a calm, intimate setting. No matter how nicely you say “this IS awful!”, the communication tends to break down quickly.

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