A couple clients recently thanked me for some advice I had given outside our main conversation, almost as asides, but that worked.
Every word counts
I told them that every word you say contributes to your identity, even if only to yourself. And that every word influences how everyone, including yourself, perceives you.
They were talking about some problems they were working through. They said things like
- “I have anxiety in social situations”
- “I don’t know how to talk to people I don’t know.”
- “Changing yourself is hard and takes time.”
I suggested changing statements like those to
- “I used to have anxiety in social situations”
- “I’m getting over anxiety from social situations”
- “I get less anxiety from social situations than I used to”
- “I’m learning how to talk to people I don’t know”
- “Changing yourself can be hard and take time, but is sometimes quick and easy.”
- “Changing yourself is rewarding. I like it.”
- “Once you start changing yourself it gets easier and faster each time.”
People dwell on using accuracy in what they say as the most important criterion so I chose alternative statements with nearly the same accuracy as the originals.
The difference is in what direction the statements move you — how they motivate you. The originals describe you as static and unable to change. They reinforce beliefs that you will stay the same.
The alternatives allow that you used to be one way, but that you can change, that you don’t have to be stuck that way.
It may not seem like it would make much of a difference, but think of how the effect of saying you are one way accumulates — in how you see yourself and how others see you. Now think of how describing yourself differently could affect you. Do you want to be someone who is how you don’t want to be, or someone becoming what you want to be?
Am I saying just changing a few words here and there will transform your life? No, words alone can only change so much. But they count. Every word has the potential to hold you back or help move you forward.
A quick exercise
In my seminar I give a quick exercise to reinforce how changing how you speak affects your beliefs, behavior, and therefore how people perceive you. If you want to lead yourself or others, these differences count.
Note that I use the word “models,” not just “statements.” I want to reinforce that statements help form the models for how we view the world.
Question: Say you have wanted to improve in some area you now do poorly in. Which of these models would you prefer?
- I’m terrible at public speaking.
- I’ll never be good at public speaking.
- Public speaking doesn’t matter.
- Others were as bad as me at public speaking yet still developed excellence in it.
- I’m going to be an excellent public speaker.
Needless to say, nearly everyone chooses model 5. No one chooses model 1. Now let’s evaluate each statement based on their accuracy.
- Model 1 is most accurate.
- Model 2 is nearly so and you can to make it accurate.
- Model 3 is sometimes accurate.
- The accuracy of Model 4 is unknown without research.
- Model 5 is speculative and least accurate.
Running around saying you’re terrible at public speaking contributes to you remaining that way. Sharing that you expect to improve will change how you and others see yourself. People who could give you tips on how to speak in public better or opportunities to practice will do so if they know you want to. They won’t if you only tell them you’re terrible.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book