Top Ten Tips on...

Added Value Language

17 April 2023
Effective Top Tens - Podcast
Quick, practical tips on a wide range of management and personal development themes.
The language we use with others and ourselves is crucial; these 10 tips offer ways of using language in a simple but positive way

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1

listen carefully and match

target two things about the other person: what they say and how they say it. They are both equally important. What is the content, and how is the expressed? Listen carefully to the words people are actually using to express themselves so that perhaps you can play them back later. You can use some of their language, which they're obviously familiar and comfortable with. Also listen for how they're speaking, what kind of pace they're using. What's their tempo? what's their register? what's their tone, the emotional weight behind the words they are using? Whenever you can match either their content or their tone, the more likely you are to be in rapport with them and come closer to them and to establishing a positive relationship.

2

use the active or passive tense appropriately

know the difference between the active and the passive tenses. The active tense always puts the subject first and the object second. Here's an example: the cat sat on the mat. The subject is ‘the cat’, which is followed by the active verb ‘sat’ and then the object, ‘the mat’. The passive version reverses the object and the subject. So it leads with the object, ‘the mat’, then there's the passive form of the verb ‘was sat on by’, the subject, ‘the cat’. So: ‘the cat sat on the mat’: active; ‘the mat was cat sat on by the cat’: passive. Three things follow from this. Firstly, active is natural; tt's actually how we speak. Whereas passive is synthetic, artificial; secondly, active carries more energy, and is more engaging. And thirdly, the passive version is always longer than the active version. In our cat example, the active version is 6 words, the passive version is. So why bother with the passive version at all? There is one good reason, and that’s if and when it's immaterial or irrelevant who is doing the action; what’s important is the process or procedure, which is often the case for science, processes, procedures or policies.

3

choose between ‘but’ and ‘and’

people will often say “yes, but…”, and whenever you hear “yes, but…” it is interpreted as “no” So someone might say “yes, I agree with what you're saying, but…”, and the “but” actually undermines everything that's gone before. So the “but” is heard as a rejection. So see if you can substitute “but” with the word “and”. So instead of “yes, but…” you say “yes, and…”. This changes the dynamic and the relationship completely, because when you hear the word “and” it's adding to what the person has said. It’s affirming their contribution, not rejecting it. Small change, big difference.

4

use ‘and’ rather than ‘either/or’

often people will say, “it’s a choice between A or B”. What this does is set up a ‘win/lose’ situation. If there's two people or two groups, one favoring A and one favoring B, then if the decision is in favour of A, those supporting B feel a sense of loss. If the decision is in favour of B those supporting A feel a sense of loss. So either way, whenever it's an either/or someone loses. Whereas if you can say, let's look to see if we can find a way of meeting A and B, can we come to a decision, then that is seeking a win-win outcome.

5

use non-accusatory language

sometimes when we are replying to somebody in conversation, we'll use a phrase which feels accusatory to the other person. Here's an example. If I were to say to you, “you don't understand what I'm saying”, then clearly that's a criticism of you for not being capable of understanding what I'm saying. They are bound to resent it and feel hurt and damaged by it. If you say, instead, “I haven't made myself clear, let me have another go, let me give you an example”, then you're taking any responsibility for any failure onto yourself. The other person doesn't feel defensive or criticized or damaged in any way, because it's about you, not about them. So here's a really powerful tip. If you're ever going to say something in conversation that you think the other person could take as a criticism, start what you're going to say with the word “I”, and not the word “you”.

6

clarify ownership

this is what I call the declension of ownership. What this means is how we use language will gives a sense of how much ownership we have of what we're talking about. The classic three components here are the difference between “it”. “you” and “I”. If I were to say “it's difficult”, It's somehow places the responsibility for the difficulty out there, away from me. And so I don't really have much ownership. “It's difficult”. Whereas if I were to say, “I find it difficult”, the ownership is clearly mine. I have to do something about it. Thus, if you want to take ownership of something, use the “I” word. And if you want to avoid ownership, then you'll use “it” or you'll use any other third person terminology. So here's an example. ”My clothes don't fit.” It sounds like it's the fault of the clothes. Naughty, naughty clothes - what happened in the wardrobe? The truth is: “I don't fit my clothes anymore”. More painful, but more honest and saying it this way will bring home to you that it's down to you. You own it to put it right. So my clothes don't fit. Midway between the ‘it’ and the ‘I’ is the word ‘you’. So, let me run this past you, you know, when you've got lots of priorities and you're not really sure which one to do first, and so you get a bit panicky and a bit stressed and that doesn't help you get on with doing the job that you're meant to do. All of that sounds in a sense everyday and quite commonplace, but central to that is the use of the word ‘you’, which is the second person use of language. Using ‘you’, rather than ‘it’ or ‘I’. “So, you know, when you have loads of priorities and you're not sure which to do next….”, sounds as though you're talking to somebody about their lack of being able to sort through their priorities and them not knowing what to do next. In fact, when I'm coaching and I'm into a one-to-one conversation and somebody uses this pattern of language, saying “you know, when you're, you've got loads of priorities and you're not sure which one…” I usually interrupt and say, sorry, is this about me? And they say of course not, I say, well, who are you talking about? They say, “I’m talking about me” so I then say, “well, if it’s about you, can you use the word “I” meaning I, so they do. And all of a sudden the issue is theirs, they own it. So their version becomes: “when I’ve got lots of priorities and I’m not really sure which one to do first, and so I get a bit panicky and a bit stressed and that doesn't help me get on with doing the job that I’m meant to do….”

7

match their senses blend

we interpret the world through our 5 senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting. But we each have a different blend of these senses. Some of us are much more responsive to some of the senses than others. Some of us are more visual, some are more aware of sounds, for example. And if you can get a sense of the other person's preference and then play back into that preference, you're much more likely to have a comfortable communicating relationship. So for example, I'm highly visual. I will often use language that's visual, such as “I see what you're getting at”, or “that looks that looks good”, or “I get the picture”. All of that's visually based language; visual is my preference. I like somebody to draw me a picture or a diagram because I understand things better through a visual representation and I can remember it more easily. Many of us are like that, are visually retentive. You can make use of that. If you knew someone you were working with had a visual preference, then presenting them with a picture or using visually strong language would help build rapport and the relationship.

8

decide between questions and statements

when we communicate we tend to be in one of two formats: we’re either using statements or questions. Typically, if these were written down, a statement would end with a full stop and a question would end with a question mark. Statements are really good for passing on information, whereas questions are really good for engaging others and seeking their views. Questions are also good for controlling somebody else's thoughts and even actions. Whatever you are thinking, I can change that by asking a question. If I ask you “what’s your favourite colour?” you are likely to answer that, at least in your head – so that’w what you are now thinking about – your thoughts based on my question…So make a judgment all the time about whether you want to engage through questions or provide information through statements.

9

test for readability

do a readability check on your written work. There are several free programmes on the internet to help you do this, and such tests tend to focus on two key factors: length of sentences, and length of words. Generally speaking, long sentences (more than 20 words) consisting of long words (3 or more syllables) are harder to read.

10

use high impact words

some words have really high impact - for good or for bad. So individual words make a powerful difference. But that is the subject for a different podcast: high impact words…

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