Can Words Sabotage Us?

can words sabotage us

I have always been passionate about the power of words. Specifically, how our words inform our thoughts and feelings, and how all of that influences our perceptions and the way we relate to others. Our language creates our world view. It shapes how we feel about ourselves and our circumstances, which in turn impacts how others see us. And it can even keep us from going further in our careers, trying new things, or being clear in asking for what we need or want personally or professionally.

Research shows that the words we use directly influence our thoughts, which then affects our behavior. So let’s start by talking a little bit about the messages we send to ourselves with the words we choose. Notice your inner monologue. When you think about trying something new, is your response something along the lines of, I would love that but that would be so hard to do, I don’t have time, I’m so busy, or I can’t handle that. If it is, pause here and think about how you feel after you say these things to yourself. What would happen if we stopped thinking self-doubting thoughts and instead we thought things like, what if it wasn’t hard? What if I made the time? What if when people asked how things are going, we responded by saying that things going well instead of saying that we were crazy busy? Would things start to feel different? When we begin to shift our perspective and ask ourselves if there is another way to look at things, the way we see the world and our place in it changes. All of a sudden where we used to see difficulty or exhaustion, we may see possibility. Changing our language can create a different reality for ourselves. This seemingly simple shift in our thinking can impact not just how we feel about ourselves, but how we behave, and how others see us.

Our choice of language is particularly influential in the workplace where as women, we may have a tendency to soften our choice of words in an effort to appear more approachable or less aggressive. We may do this in a number of different ways. Upspeak (making a sentence sound like a question), the use of qualifying phrases such as, “I’m not the expert here but,” or the use of words like just or actually, as in, “I actually thought” or “I just thought I would” are all habits that make us sound less certain of our point of view and undermine the power of our messages. When we use them we minimize ourselves and the impact of our overall message.

So what do we do to convey our thoughts in a clear and confident way to ourselves and to others? Start with awareness. Notice your choice of words. If you find that you use any of the phrases above, trying using some of the suggested techniques to express yourself more directly. Then notice whether or not there is a difference in the way you feel or if people respond to you differently. Try not to put a lot of pressure on yourself to say everything perfectly the first time and don’t feel as if you need to change things up all at once.

When I was studying for my master’s degree I read a book called Bridges Not Walls: A Book About Interpersonal Communication by John Stewart. He introduced a concept called “nexting.” The definition might sound obvious to you, but something about reading the words really struck a chord with me. Stewart defined nexting as “doing something helpful next, responding fruitfully to what’s just happened, and taking an additional step in the communication process.” In other words, saying something next that may improve upon what you said the first time or move the conversation forward in a different way. I often put a lot of pressure on myself to say the right thing the first time when the stakes are high. This concept was a wakeup call that none of us get it right the first time, and more importantly, we don’t have to because there’s always what comes next.

On one hand, stepping outside of your comfort zone is scary. On the other hand, you may feel better about yourself and give others the strength to do the same. As women, we need to support and empower one another to make our own rules and spread the word that each of us holds the power to shape our own experiences.

Thank you for reading, take care of you, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions on this or any other wellness-related topic.

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