Monday, April 5, 2010

Choose Your Words



"I've told him already but he ..."

How often have you found yourself saying that? Very frequently, I'd say. If you deny, you are perfectly normal. The thing is, many of us do not realize how bad we are as communicators. In our minds, we are very clear about what needs to be said and what needs to be received.

Unfortunately, the two seldom coincide.


There are many reasons for such a common phenomenon, which we call, 'mis-communication'. One of them is the "Choice of words".

Remember, in a communication process, what is more important is 'what's understood' and not 'what is said'. You would want to choose the right words so that your message is understood.

Here are a few pointers you can ponder about.


Many words, similar meanings

English words have evolved over many centuries. Today, every other word has its counterpart(s) in the Thesaurus. This adds to the beauty of the language and it also adds to the difficulties in ensuring that the most appropriate word is used.

It is not wise to look into the Thesaurus and pick a bombastic word just to impress. Chances are, you would annoy your receiver. Generally, simpler words are better received.

It is also not helpful to keep using the same word over and over again. Your receiver may find you boring and soon loses interest in what is being sent.



Many words, no meaning

Sometimes, we go away thinking that saying more means sending a clearer message. Not quite.

I have often come across people who attempt to string many words into a sentence, thinking that they are good to impress. They failed.

Examine these sentences closely...

  • "The project has been delayed because the team is not able to meet the deadline." - states the obvious.
  • "We have considered all the considerations and we will decide on a decision soon." - says nothing.
  • "This is the best method to use even though we have found that some other methods are better." - illogical and out to confuse.

More words do not assure better clarity, get it?


Words affect emotions

Think of a moment when you are at the receiving end of the communication process and harsh words are thrown at you. You would feel bad, wouldn't you?. Words do affect emotions and I am sure you can relate to that.

Most people are sensitive to how received-words affect their emotions. However, few are mindful about the importance of 'choice of words' when they are the sender of message.

The good news is that, when a message sender hurts someone with the wrong choice of words, it is seldom intentional. Another good news is that, using a better choice of words can be a habit, which you can acquire.

From now on, whenever you are upset by some words, note them down and develop a habit of not using them in the same way. In doing so, you will reap two immediate benefits:

  1. Learn more effective use of words to influence the positive emotion of the receiver; and
  2. Feel less upset as you pre-occupy your mind in acquiring the habit.


Your choice of words reveals your personality

Words make up your thoughts and ideas. They also tell about your personality.

How you feel and react towards things depends on your personality. You will in turn select the most appropriate words (usually nouns and verbs) to express yourself.

Imagine a scene where your friend turns up very late for an appointment with you, would you instinctively say:

  1. "What happened to you? Why are you so late?" or
  2. "You are late. Is everything OK? Did something happen to you?"

The first expression suggests that you are doubtful that he has a good reason to be late. The second expression shows some concerns for your friend.

So, it would seem that what you say in this instance depends on whether you have a 'distrusting' personality or a 'caring' personality.

Don't be quick to conclude that nicer personality is the pre-requisite for saying nicer stuff. Actually, it is a 'chicken and egg' thing and the two factors influence each other. You will be surprised how saying nicer things can help to turn your personality 'nicer'.

The next time you send a message, take a moment to think about how the receiver might feel about your words. The general rule is very simple: "Don't do what you do not want others to do unto you."

With some effort, you would find yourself saying 'nicer' things and gradually, your choice of words would also help to shape your personality. As your personality turns for the better, so would your natural expressions.



Here are some examples of expressions you would not want to have. I will leave them to you to work on better alternatives:

  • I just knew that you were going to make this mistake when you planned your project that way. (A non-constructive use of hindsight)

  • I know that already. (Shut off the flow of information)
  • You always forget to switch off the lights. (Over-generalization and 'accuse' the receiver of wrongs they never commit)
  • I am sure you did not take that into account and that is why the project failed. (Assumption without basis)
  • Why can't you be less careless? (Focus on problem/symptom rather than outcome)


George Bernard Shaw once said: "The problem with communication ... is the illusion that it has been accomplished".He was absolutely right. Good communication is not easy but not impossible. Do take baby steps and work on one or two things at a time.

Make what you say heard the way it should be.


"When I get ready to talk to people,
I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and
one third thinking about what I want to say."
~Abraham Lincoln~

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