Words that Work

Words that Work

“When words fail, wars begin. When wars finally end, we settle our disputes with words.” ~Wilfred Funk

I have written ad naseum about the power of words, of their unconscious effects and the meta-messages they convey.

Today, a couple of reminders to help you get your point across with less blow-back, stress or drama.


Completely, totally, utterly, absolutely, literally, basically, perfectly.

Lose them—or at least reduce your use of them.

“I’m completely frustrated…” “It’s utterly hopeless…”

Far more effective to say only, “I feel frustrated—or hopeless.”

The more adverbs you use in verbal communication, the more the listener will interpret you as aggressive/emotional/flighty.


Unless it’s asked for, don’t give it.

“Here’s what you should do…”

Anytime you use the word “should” it is interpreted by the listener as advice, advice that they didn’t request.

Two suggestions here: ask permission (“Are you open to some input?”), and then replace “should” with “could” (“Well, you could consider….”).

Another effective phrase: “If I were in your shoes, I might consider…

Both options offer you the opportunity to not only give your input/advice, but also allow for more open space in the mind of the listener to receive it.


You didn’t follow through…”

In the heat of the moment, if you begin using the objective personal pronoun “you” to launch your heat-seeking word missiles, you’re in trouble. The listener hears only the pointed finger of blame and will automatically go into defense.

Find a way to rephrase what you want to say by using the word “I”. Begin by conveying the impact of the other person’s words/behaviours on you and name the consequences.

“I am disappointed by your lack of follow-through. When you leave things hanging, my trust level lowers.”

To be able to do this requires patience, practice and effort, the main reason why so many people resort to pointed fingers—it’s easier.


“You always/never…”

As the adage goes, “Always and never statements are always false and never true.”

So, stop using them when attempting to make a point or get through to someone else. Your listener will look for (and find) the one example that disproves your statement.

In the heat of the moment, it’s tempting to default to sweeping generalizations, but it won’t help make your point.

Better to name the behaviour you find unacceptable and then state its effects on you.

Be specific. Give data. “When you do/say____, I feel _____.”

This allows the other person to understand your perspective. Often, they are unaware of both their behaviour and its effects.

So, consider using words that work to help, not hinder, the delivery of your message.

Stay connected with our Monday Morning Message

Cynthia Barlow

Founder Cynthia Barlow

Facilitator, Author, Coach

Helping businesses build their people

When your people have the skills to communicate more effectively, they can connect more easily and collaborate more productively. Not only on the job, but also in life.

Communication, Connection, and Collaboration—the three “C’s”—are the cornerstones of all successful businesses. They are the result of Emotional Intelligence in action.

More details can be found in my recent best seller with co-author Jennifer Eggers:
Resilience: It’s Not About Bouncing Back

The power of resilience within organizations can transform an average company into a powerhouse. Yet, even in times of rapid disruptive change, there is no manual for building resilient organizations. This book is that manual.

“If you  want to build more resilience intentionally—personally and professionally—read this book.
Fran Karamousis, Chief  of Research, Gartner


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