Language. It is one of the most powerful tools we have. The words that we choose and the order that we choose to put them is what creates this message that we are sending out into the world. I think that we don’t realize how much certain words or phrases can impact how we (and others) feel about things that surround us every day. I speak to a lot of people about being intentional with the way that we word things or the phrases we choose to use. The same message that is worded just a little differently can help it to be received in the way that it was intended. I believe that there are a few words that we can all but eliminate from our vocabulary that can help to shift perspectives, reduce shame and nurture relationships-including the relationship that we have with ourselves. If we can make the choice to use certain words or phrases instead of others, it can be more likely that the person or people we are interacting with will actually hear us and be able to respond rather than react.
I love you, but…….
You did a really good job, but…..
You look really pretty, but…
When we employ the use of the word “but” in a sentence, it negates all of the words that come before it. It is generally not intentional and I am not even sure if I understand why it happens that way, and the reality is that when someone says any of the phrases above, whatever comes next is the only thing we concentrate on.
I love you, but you are driving me crazy right now
You did a really good job, but your time could have been faster.
You look really pretty, but I liked your hair long.
It seems simple and people are not intending to be offensive (usually) when they say these benign phrases in their every day conversation. I would like to invite you to think about the 13 year old who hears all of these phrases in one day. Or multiple days in a row? What if I am right here and she does not connect with the first half of those sentences What if she only hears the part after the “but”
You are driving me crazy
Your time could have been faster
I liked your hair long (subtext is that I do not like it short)
When we replace the word “but” with the word “and” it is a representation of the fact that two things can be true at the exact same time. Certainly, it would also be helpful to use some different words in the second half of the sentence and simply changing that one word can allow us consider both halves.
I love you and I need a moment right now.
You did a great job and your next run will be faster
You look really pretty and you looked pretty with your hair long.
We don’t realize how shaming the word “should” is. Any time we use it to tell someone what they “should” do or to tell ourselves what we “should have” done, the subtext of that message is that whatever we are planning to do or did do is not good enough for the speaker. Your ideas or your actions are less than preferred which can feel as though a person is judgmental of us or disappointed in us. Instead, try saying things like “I wish you would” or “what might work” instead. It is a little bit more effort and also more energy to use these phrases instead and doing so can be a game changer in terms of the way that we, and the people around us, feel about themselves.
In our society, we judge EVERYTHING. In some cases, judgement is appropriate, right? For example, when you get into your car, I hope that you exercise your judgement and choose to put on your seatbelt-that is not the kind of judgement that I am referring to. I challenge you to stop calling things, choices, outfits, conversations, efforts, etc “good” or “bad.” Instead, try to determine if they are “effective” or ineffective.” In other words, how is this working for you to achieve your ultimate goal?
It is not a perfect system. If you are successful and turning your “buts” into “ands,” your “shoulds” into “I wish” and your “bads” into “ineffective” I am not expecting that it will also turn your life into rainbows and cupcakes and butterflies. I do, however, believe that there is power in language. I do believe that the words that we choose in our conversations are important and impactful. I do believe that making an effort to pay attention to the way that we are speaking to others, and ourselves, will have a positive influence on our relationships and our lives. This is a challenge to start paying attention to our words and work towards harnessing the power of language to strengthen relationships. It is an additional challenge to start with your relationship with yourself.