Change your Language, Change Your Results

Don’t think of a leafy green tree!


What did you just think about? Hands up, anyone who didn’t think of a leafy green tree. No hands? Gotcha!

What’s all this about? It’s a simple example of how our word choices influence our results.

The implications are pretty huge. Imagine, for example, if Ian Thorpe kept saying to himself, “Don’t come in second. Don’t come in second. Don’t come in second.” How do you think he’d do? I suspect he’d have fewer gold medals in his cabinet. It’s exactly the same as saying, “Come in second”, because that’s the image created in his mind.

Buddhist wisdom says thoughts become words, words become deeds, deeds become habits, habits become a way of life, our way of life becomes character, and character becomes our destiny.  Given that we have thousands of conversations per day, with others as well as inside our own heads, we probably should pay attention to the words we use.

Next time you’re talking with someone about the results you want, listen to the language you’re using. Where does your perception of control lie – within you or outside of you?

Most of us are well conditioned to use phrases like these in our daily speech:

  • I should
  • I want
  • I need
  • I have to
  • I don’t know

Unfortunately, all of these phrases are disempowering. Notice that each of them implies that we have given up control of, and accountability for, our actions to someone or something else. Instead, try these on for size:

  • I am
  • I choose
  • I can
  • I’ll find out
  • I claim
  • I’ll create

Take a moment to read these phrases out aloud. How do they make you feel? In essence, they are far more empowering, allowing you to take back the control and accountability.

How often do we get our wires crossed with others because we haven’t gotten clearly to the core of the message? Imagine you said to an employee, “EVERYONE says that you’re ALWAYS late”, or “EVERY TIME I see you you’re slacking off.”  That employee would have every right to call foul. Everyone? Who, specifically? Every time? Which times, specifically? If you’re giving feedback, get specific, don’t distort. You’ll get the issue resolved more quickly and with less misunderstanding.

Specifics also relate to how we’d like to change things. Most change initiatives, from cultural change programs to enthusiastic fitness regimes, fail because the people behind them aren’t specific enough about the outcomes they want. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard, “We’re going to change this place!” with no substantial description of what the place will look, feel and sound like when the change is done.

Change into what? What will the receptionist’s voice sound like when he or she answers the phone? What emotions will employees feel when they are thinking about the company? What expression will be most common on employees’ faces? These are the types of questions that need to be asked – specifics.

How many times have you bumped into an acquaintance on the street and had this conversation: “Oh, we must get together sometime for coffee.” And they say, “Yep, that’d be great. Let’s catch up soon.” And then you go your separate ways, not to see each other for another six months, when you have the same conversation again.

When our language is vague, we are avoiding feelings. We say, “One day I’ll give up smoking”, “Perhaps I was wrong”, “I’ll try to do something about it.” By using such vagaries we’re telegraphing our lack of commitment.

One way to learn to change your language is to employ the technique known as lasering. Quite simply, the next time you want to get a message across, try doing it with the shortest and most succinct phrasing you can. By lasering, or compacting your intentions into a focused sentence, you’re forcing yourself to think about the words you choose and the real message you want others to hear.

If you want to change your results, change your language. As Yoda, of The Empire Strikes Back fame, says to Luke Skywalker, “Do, or Do not. There is no Try.”