Mind your language – words matter!

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Language is fascinating!  We are born without language and quickly gain an understanding of words spoken to us and around us, comprehending much before we even begin to use words ourselves.

We learn from parents, siblings, peers and from TV, radio and the vast array of social media that we become exposed to from an early age. At school we learn more formally and at some point are enlightened that there are different types of words that have different functions in our native language, whatever that may be. There are verbs, nouns, adjectives and a host of others. Words to describe things, words for things and words that are about doing things. We soak this up, becoming proficient ( mostly) in using a whole variety of words to communicate our thoughts, wants, needs, ideas and opinions.

Somewhere along the way we get used to using certain words that are, in effect, wrong, out of context – perhaps this is laziness but that debate can take place elsewhere!

One such example of this is something I hear regularly in my coaching practice as well as in the wider world. We are in the habit of using nouns instead of verbs – a habit that often contributes to becoming or being “stuck” in a problem.

Let’s take the following statement as an example

“Communication is appalling in our team”.

I guess we will all have an interpretation as to what this may mean. The tricky part comes when the individual wants to move forward and change “something” to improve the situation. The following statement is a common one.

“We all need to work on communication, it’s time it improved”

Whilst we stick with a noun – “communication” we have a problem. Firstly, there is actually no such thing – the definition of a noun in the Oxford Dictionaries is as follows :-

Noun :- a word ( other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places or things.

Now can you see the problem – communication is not a thing – we cannot see it, pick it up, buy it or improve it because, in truth, it doesn’t exist. The person using the word communication is talking about something abstract and as such, is powerless to improve “it” because, quite simply, “it” doesn’t exist!  The brain, doesn’t really know what to do with this statement and so it is easy to remain “stuck”.

In order to work on this, it is necessary to change it back into a verb – a doing word. This requires ownership, action; and once we do this, “to communicate” becomes an activity that we can do in the same way or differently in order to improve.

As soon as I consider how “I communicate” with you and with the other individuals in my team, I have a range of choices as do you. Moving from a noun to a verb, is empowering and helps me take responsibility for the way in which I communicate with others.

I can explore options and plan to communicate differently. I can ask you the best way to communicate with you and you can tell me. We can both now be accountable and our actions and behaviours can be shaped into a way of communicating with each other that works more effectively!

Another example that I hear often is :-

“I will work on my relationship with ……. ( client, manager, mentor, partner, child )” :- Spotted it? Another noun where a verb will be so much more useful.   There is no such thing as a “relationship”.  I can’t see one, hold one, pick one up etc!

I can pontificate about a relationship with someone else to my heart’s content but until I take accountability and change my language to an action word, it is very tricky to change.   What I need to reflect upon and adapt, is the way that I relate to the other person and the way that we relate to each other.  It is here where I can experiment with my behaviour and be flexible to create change.

So, next time you are stuck with a problem, check that you have the right keyword. Check that there is a verb in the right place and if not, consider altering the language. Take out the noun and get ready for action by using a verb!

Until next time

Bridget Clapham

2 thoughts on “Mind your language – words matter!

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