We’ve discussed words a number of times in Winning at Work – how negative words (e.g.’yergunnahafta’, ‘problem’, etc.) can quite often trigger an unpleasant interaction, and how positive words (e.g. ‘excellent’, ‘let’s figure out how to make this work.’ etc.) can create positive, long-term outcomes. Our selection of words has broad impacts on our business and personal lives. It can be the different between conflict and comfort, connection or rejection, making a sale or losing a sale, a promotion or stagnation.

Learning to use language skillfully is more than just watching what you say, or trying to walk that often overzealous line of political correctness. When used well, words can motivate, stimulate, educate, persuade, influence and set a tone. It’s a subtle, yet powerful skill. It’s the difference, for example, between saying, “I think that was a stupid thing for you to do,” and “I’m not sure that’s the way I would have done it.” The first one is accusatory and demeaning, the second one gentle and less confrontational.

Here’s a great practice: Listen carefully to the words that people around you choose. And the next time someone says something that gets under your skin, ask yourself, “How could this person have conveyed the same message in a way that wouldn’t have bothered me.” Being aware of the language strategies other people use can significantly help you improve your own communication skills. It’s truly amazing the difference just a few well selected words can make.

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