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Conventional wisdom is that we use words to describe the world. I mean that the world exists as fact and we use words to portray what is.

But how interesting to realize that the reverse is also true to a large extent.  We also use words to create our experience of the world. When I say “What a beautiful day!”, I am creating a feeling and I’m promoting a perception. Even my own perception changes as I say those words, because I automatically try to prove myself right by seeing the beauty around me.

Do those words influence your perception also? Do you find yourself looking out the window or otherwise considering the beauty of the day?

Truth is in the eyes of the beholder. What you observe is your reality. When I say that the world is beautiful, it becomes more so. Is that true?

So if words can be so powerful, what are some of the ways we can use them to improve our lives and the lives of those we lead? Here are some tips for further pondering.

Watch out for superlatives and generalizations like always, never, everyone, no one and others. They are never true. (Ooops!) And they tend to limit our ability to perceive accurately what is.

It is a cliché in coaching circles to avoid the word “should” because it implies that you are controlled by someone else (a parent or societal demand?) rather than making your own choice about something. “I should…” even implies a sense of resistance. You can try using “I want to…” or “I will…” for better effect. Through your words you can control and endorse your choices and desires!

Words don’t have to be spoken aloud to be powerful. The ones we say to ourselves in our head are often the ones that have the biggest impact on our perception of reality. What are you telling yourself?

Watch the language of the people around you. Are they limiting themselves? Are their words reflecting a useful perception? There are no rights or wrongs in language, but there are definitely differences in impact.

What standards do you have about the words you use? One of the main points in the book The Four Agreements – by Don Miguel Ruiz, is to “be impeccable with your word”. This means to use your words wisely, with care for their impact and with attention to their reliability and truth.

Coaching Example:

My client was frustrated by what she saw as insubordination by her staff. They were arriving at the office late in the mornings. She said she wanted them to be ‘mature’ and she emphasized that their results were the most important measure of their work.

From her explanation I suspected that there were some inconsistencies in the messages she was giving to her staff, so we explored the issue further. She said she was hesitant to tell them specifically about being at work on time because she thought ‘they should know better’. But she had no way of knowing how aware her staff really were about the specific job requirements for work times, especially since she tended to avoid speaking to them directly about it, and she emphasized the importance of results. She also avoided giving them feedback when they were late.

Looking into what was happening for her internally, she revealed that when she said to herself that ‘they should know better’, she felt a harsh judgment towards them, and she began to feel negative emotions and stress within herself. If  she corrected them when she was in this mood, she had a patronizing tone that they reacted to with resistance. Rather than creating these unpleasant feelings, she often chose to say nothing, which simply allowed the problem to continue and escalated the emotions she felt.

Looking just at the words my client was using, where are the opportunities for change?

First of all, her label of “they should know better” was triggering unhelpful emotions. Replacing this phrase with ‘they do not know’, made it much easier to correct the situation by removing the judgment and simply telling them what they needed to know!

Secondly, her use of ‘they’ made it sound as if all of her staff were insubordinate. In fact it was only 2 out of  7. And the word ‘they’ portrayed an uncomfortable and unhelpful division between ‘us’ and ‘them’, rather than a team working together.

Finally, by reducing her feelings of harsh judgment, she was able to be more specific with her words and give them much more information about what was required for success in the team.

The Source of My Inspiration

I’ve been reading Coaching to the Human Soul –Ontological Coaching and Deep Change, by Alan Sieler and I find it is full of inspirational concepts, practical coaching tools and informative examples. Some of the methods he describes put into words some tricks I have learned through hours and hours of practice, trial and error. It’s wonderful to be able to see it written out so clearly so that I can fully understand what I’m doing and practice it more consciously. For anyone learning or improving their coaching skills, this is a big time saver.

An even better way to benefit from Alan’s work is to catch him in Hong Kong this month! Click here for details.