“Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in the dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” -Nathaniel Hawthorne
Your words convey so much more than the actual message you hope to get across. The way you speak gives others a glimpse into who you are and how you see yourself in the world. Words can inspire. Words can destroy.
If you hope to inspire confidence in others, weed the following three words out of your vocabulary.
There’s nothing wrong with the word “just” when it’s used in terms of what is lawful or reasonable. For example: He got his just desserts.
It’s also fine to use “just” to indicate recentness. For example: She just arrived.
Frequently, when I hear it though, the word is used as a synonym for “merely.” For example:
- I just wondered if you could…
- I just wanted to ask…
- It’s just a little thing, but…
In that context, the word diminishes the message. It nonverbally communicates, “I have a very small request to make of you, if you would so graciously condescend to listen to and grant it.” It devalues the speaker’s position and statement.
If you need to say or ask or do something, do it. You can be polite without demeaning yourself. When you add the word “just,” you are nonverbally asking for permission to make the request. Do you really need permission to ask for permission?
Author Ellen Petry Leanse hypothesizes that women in the workplace use “just” more frequently than men do. Regardless of your gender, notice when and how you use it. Most likely, you soften your comments and requests with “just” when you feel inferior in status. If you want to increase your credibility and leadership presence, stop. Most of the time you can simply drop the word from the sentence. You will sound and feel more confident without it.
In graduate school, my mentor challenged me to stop using the word “should.” We often use it on others when giving unsolicited advice, which is obnoxious enough. We also, though, use the word “should” to oppress ourselves.
I should stick to my budget. I should eat better. I should call my mom.
Whether you’re saying it to someone else or to yourself, “should” implies a boundary violation. Either you’re trying to impose your values on someone else, or you’re feeling pressured to adopt values that aren’t your own.
You are responsible for your own decisions and no one else’s. Your decisions are enough to be responsible for! Let other people take care of their own. As Anne Lamott said in her TED Talk, “Our help is often toxic… Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and ‘goodness’ all over everybody.” By all means, when people ask for assistance, be willing and ready to help. Most of the time, though, we’re way more eager to GIVE “help” than others are willing to receive it.
Instead of imposing your advice on others, advise yourself! Decide what’s important to you and act accordingly. Instead of beating yourself up with “I should get up earlier,” consider where that “should” is coming from and whether or not you truly agree. If you decide you DO want to get up earlier, own that decision and act on it. If you decide against it, let it go.
Live your life according to YOUR values. By letting go of “should,” you’ll reduce your sense of guilt, increase your peace and happiness, and communicate more powerfully.
Yup, you’re busy. I know. I get it.
We’re all so very, terribly busy. You, me, even the kid next door.
I remember suddenly realizing one evening that my oldest daughter was constantly talking about how every day was “so busy.” She seemed stressed and anxious in the evenings, anticipating how “busy” the next day would be.
Really? I thought. You go to school, come home, do some homework, and then play for the rest of the day. Is your life really so stressful?
Of course, she was picking up on the stress and the busy-ness from her (ahem) parents. So, I talked to my husband about it and we decided to change the way we spoke about OUR schedules. We cut “busy” out of our conversations. Within a week, our daughter stopped stressing and started saying things like, “I hope tomorrow will be another good day like today.”
Deepak Chopra and Kabir Sehgal suggest avoiding “busy,” too. We secretly feel smug about how busy we are, even though everyone else is in the same boat. Yet the problem with this word goes beyond that: When you constantly bemoan how busy you are, you telling everyone, “I am not in charge of my life.”
Take charge. Fill your days with the things you choose. Instead of complaining about how busy you are, take responsibility for what you’re spending your life on.
Yes, your days will still be full. And no, they won’t be 100% full of fun, happy, peaches-and-cream stuff. But they will be full of the things that are important to you. This simple vocabulary shift will help you feel more empowered and present yourself with more authority.
As Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Words are more treacherous and powerful than we think.” The words that you speak—to yourself and to others—shape your life. Choose wisely.
Change your communication, change your life.