Mind and mouth a powerful combination

DON’T think of a big leafy green tree!


What did you just think about? Hands up anyone who didn’t think of a big leafy green tree. No hands? Gotcha.

What’s all this about? It’s a simple example of how our choice of words influences the results we get.

The implications are pretty huge. Imagine, for example, if Ian Thorpe kept saying to himself, “Don’t come second. Don’t come second. Don’t come second.” Where do you think he’d come? I don’t suspect he’d have any of those six gold medals he’s just picked up in Japan. It’s just the same as saying, “Come second”, because that’s the image he has created in his mind.

It is Buddhist wisdom that says thoughts become words, words become deeds, deeds become habits, habits become a way of life, our way of life becomes character, and character becomes our destiny.

And given that we have thousands of conversations per day – with others as well as inside our own head – we probably should pay attention to the words we use.

Next time you’re talking with someone about the results you want, listen to the language you’re using. Where does your perception of control lie – with you or outside of you?

Most of us are well conditioned to use phrases like “ I should”, “ I want”, “ I need”, “have to” and “I don’t know” in our daily speech. Unfortunately, all of these phrases are disempowering. Notice that each of them implies that we have given up control of, and accountability for, our actions to someone or something else.

Instead, try these on for size: “I am”, “I choose”, “I can”, “I’ll find out”, “I claim” and “I’ll create”. Take a moment to read these phrases out aloud. How do they make you feel? In essence, they are far more empowering phrases that allow you to take back the control and accountability.

How often do we get our wires crossed with others because we haven’t clearly gotten to the core of the message behind the words? If you said to an employee “Everyone says that you’re always late”, or “every time I see you you’re slacking off”, the employee would have every right to cry foul. Everyone? Who, specifically? Every time? Which times, specifically? If you’re giving feedback, get specific, don’t distort. You’ll then get the issue resolved more quickly and with less misunderstanding.

Specifics also relate to how we’d like to change things. Most change initiatives, from cultural change programs to enthusiastic fitness regimes, fail because the people behind them aren’t specific enough about the outcomes they want. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard, “We’re going to change the culture of this place” with no substantial description of what the place will look, feel and sound like when the change is done.

Change into what? What will the receptionist’s voice sound like when he or she answers the phone? What emotions will employees feel when they are thinking about the company? What expression will be most common on employees’ faces? These are the types of questions that need to be asked – specifics.

How many times have you bumped into an acquaintance on the street and said, “Oh, we must get together at some stage for a coffee”. And they say, “Yep, that’d be great. Let’s catch up soon”. And then you go your separate ways, not to see each other for another six months, when again you say …

When we are vague in our language we are avoiding the feelings around the subject on which we are speaking. We say, “One day I’ll give up smoking”, “Perhaps I was wrong”, “I’ll try to do something about it”. By using such vagaries we’re telegraphing our lack of commitment.

One useful way to help change your language is to employ the technique known as “lasering”. Quite simply, the next time you want to get a message across, try doing it by using the least amount and most succinct phrasing you can.

By lasering, or compacting your intentions into a focused sentence, you’re forcing yourself to think about the words you choose and the real message you want others to hear.

If you want to change your results, change your language. As Yoda, of The Empire Strikes Back fame, says to Luke Skywalker, “Do, or Do not. There is no Try”.

As a footnote, I’d like to thank Gary De Rodriguez from the Neuro-Linguistic Training Centre in San Diego for providing the inspiration for this article.

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