Everybody Does It (Do You?)

Your perspective, the way you see the world, can influence your language, the way you use words. But your language can also influence your perspective.

If you’d like to think bigger about who you are and what you offer the world, then just a small change in your choice of words may open up whole new worlds.

A number of years ago, while speaking with my teacher, I made a statement declaring, “Everybody’s like that.” My teacher replied, “Are they?” “Well…I guess…no, not really,” I stammered. He asked me if I would be open to observing my language for the use of generalities and declarative statements that were not empirically based. I agreed and was surprised by what I found.

You too, may be surprised by how often you use declarative statements that don’t allow room for alternatives or other possibilities.

Notice my choice of words in this post thus far. The above sentence leaves room for an alternative by suggesting that, “You might be surprised” rather than “You will be surprised.” Earlier I said that a “small change in your choice of words, may open up whole new worlds,” and that “the way you see the world can influence your language” and that “your language can also influence your perspective.”

You’ll often find declarative and general statements in the language of marketers, especially aggressive marketers. “This is the only thing you’ll ever need to learn and the only thing you’ll ever need to know and the only thing you’ll ever need to do…”

From the marketer’s perspective, that kind of language is often designed to close you off to the possibility that it might not be the right product for you and that it might, in fact, not help you. Sure, you’ll often see “may” and “should” used to reduce the marketer’s liability but, for the most part, marketers try to close off your thinking so that you focus only on what they are suggesting you buy into.

I imagine that you don’t care much for that kind of language when it’s directed at you. Although, you might love it, I don’t know. But, putting that aside for the moment, think about how your mind might react if all of the language you used included declarative statements.

If you emphatically declare, “All men are like that,” or “I can never trust again,” how are you going to create space in your mind, your perspective, for a man that does meet your expectations?

If you generalize that, “All rich people are snobs,” how are you going to see yourself as a wealthy person so that you can improve your professional and financial status?

If you state that “All liberals are socialists,” or that “All Tea Party members are crazies,” how do you come together to make things better?

Often these viewpoints are a reflection of something that scares us but even the simple, little things can make a difference. When you say something like, “You didn’t take out the trash,” the other person is immediately accused of doing something wrong. However, if you say, “It seems like you didn’t take out the trash. Am I correct?” you leave room for an alternative.

So does the way you see the world influence your choice of words or does your choice of words influence the way you see the world? I believe it’s both.

Often, it’s suggested that you simply change your actions to get better results. However, if your worldview doesn’t change to support the new actions, you may find it difficult to sustain the new actions. Moreover, it can be difficult to simply say, “Ok, as of today I’m going to see the world in a different way,” if your language doesn’t support the change.

If you’d like to quite smoking but every time you attempt the feat, you find yourself repeating, “I can’t get through the day without a cigarette,” how do you think it influences the way you see the world and the outcome of your effort? By making a slight change in your language to something like, “It’s been hard to get through the day without a cigarette,” leaves room for the possibility that it is doable.

If you’d like to lose weight but you consistently say things like, “Oh, I could never do without my chocolate fix,” how do you think it influences the way you see the world and your waistline? Instead, trying saying, “I am used to having a chocolate fix.” That slight change alone might open up the possibility that you can live without it.

If you want to build a business and hear yourself saying things like, “Marketing takes too much time,” or “Getting clients is just hard,” or “Every time I get a lead, ‘this’ happens,” how do you think it influences the way you see the world and influences the actions you take?

Using different language like, “I’ve found that when I get a lead this has been happening,” allows you to explore alternatives. Instead of generalizing that “marketing takes too much time,” saying, “I’ve found that marketing has taken me a lot of time,” might leave room for exploration. And, well, saying, “Getting clients is just hard,” doesn’t seem like it will help the situation, now does it?

I would venture a guess that you have made a declarative statement or two over the years. I know I have. I now do my best not to. But when I do, I try to catch myself and amend my statement.

Whether it’s on little things or big things, all generalities are false (including that one).

And just think about how your choice of words makes the world see you.

44 thoughts on “Everybody Does It (Do You?)

Ellen Goldman

Beautifully said Michael. Your choice of words were perfect, that is in my opinion.

Lisa Robbin Young

I’ve been spending a LOT of time lately “watching my mouth” so to speak. It’s surprising to me how often my words reflect my present reality – instead of my future possibilities. So I’m navigating, shifting, and focusing on being more conscious of not just my words and actions, but also my thoughts, emotions and choices.

They all can impact where I’m at on a minute by minute basis.

Jay Webb

This is beautiful, Michael. I have obliterated most of the declarative statements from my interactions with people as well and I have to say, it sure makes me feel better about things when I allow possibilities other than what I think. I do my best to say “in my opinion” when it’s my opinion and not actual fact. I still get to voice my stand on things, but instead of being a bulldozer, I allow others to speak up and voice their opinions too. I just like to communicate like this. It seems so much better than shutting off all other possibilities. Remember that in life, you don’t always KNOW what you don’t know.

–Jay

erika

Thank you so much for this! its amazing the vibration that language has our life.. from the hit of a beautifully sculpted poem delivered in a card to the terrorizing lines that paralyze our minds..thank you for sharing possibility and the spaces to fill in the blanks with more of who we are!

Heath Howard

Great post. I remember reading about how CS Lewis had a teacher challenge him the same way, to be more precise with his language and not make vague generalities.

I think this is often, not always ;-), overlooked and it plays a large part in the dumbing down of our language and thus the dumbing down of our thinking.

Thanks for a good reminder to be mindful of how I speak and write.

DrMollieMarti

Powerful essay on the power of our word choices.

Thanks for this invitation to watch my All-Every-Never-Always statements… and those more subtle declarations that close off possibilities and opportunities.

Appreciate this reminder!

Andy

Great article and words of wisdom Michael.
I think to make those changes in the words we use we need to be mindful. We need to be present in the moment. We are conditioned to use familiar words, phrases and expressions. It is habit. We can’t just snap our fingers and change. It takes time and effort. You need to be open to new ideas that may go against your beliefs. However, by reading and really thinking about new ideas and experimenting with choosing different words it is possible to change.

Cherelynn

Oh the power of our words is a tale as old as time! Thanks for the update and sharing!

Brian

The negative affects of “no retreat” language are often observed in online forums. The apparent lack of body language often leaves open many interpretations of “intent” and can be easy for the wrong intent to be assumed. Consequently, I make an effort to always double and triple check my posts and replies to avoid triggering reactionary responses and leave the conversation open to opposing views. Perhaps our elected officials might serve us better if they checked their thought language before rendering declarative statements and “no retreat” language? Just a thought.

Rachel French

When I was in college, I decided that I would stop using “labeling” words to describe people, including jerk, idiot, witch…you get the idea. By taking those words out of my vocabulary, I found that I took a lot MORE words to express myself. For example, instead of saying, “That guy is such a jerk,” I had to focus on the thing that he had done or said that made me think that. I would have to say that bumping into me was rude, or to be more clear, bumping into me wasn’t particularly rude, but no apologizing was. Then I found myself realizing that sometimes the person wasn’t even rude, but was just busy or distracted. Most of the time it turned out that the person wasn’t a jerk at all, but that I had been inconvenienced or offended–maybe even rightly so–but that the person didn’t really deserve such a sweeping, general label.

The best part of that experiment, and the most unexpected part, is that I ended up liking a LOT more people. Without the convenience of labeling, I focused on actions, and found that there is more to like than to dislike in people.

(That was over 20 years ago. I think I need to run my experiment again because I have fallen into bad patterns and habits of labeling in my old age.)

Chantal

I love your experiment and will be suggesting it to my teenagers that are in the stage of labeling everybody and everything. It makes me cringe. I particularly like that you started noticing the causes of what was making you react. Great awareness.

Chris Sinclair

Excellent post. I have become increasingly aware of my self-talk as well as what I say to others. Additionally, I have learned to filter what others say to minimize the impact of declarative statement that others intentionally and unintentionally use to get us to act and do as they desire.

While we may tend to limit ourselves with declarative statements, we can also do the same to others. This quote by Dr. Jay E. Adams, “Minimize a man’s estimate of himself and you minimize the man himself” says this quite well.

There are, however, times when declarative statements actually can be helpful. Your example of someone trying to stop smoking is a good example. If someone has managed to avoid smoking for a period of time and then someone offers them a cigarette, they may find it reinforces their new behavior by simply making the declarative statement, “No thank you, I don’t smoke.” This simple statement reinforces a new self-image.

Michael Port

That’s a great point Chris. I hadn’t even considered that perspective when writing the article. Thank you! You see, this is why I think we can do so much more with others than we can alone.

Melonya Johnson

Interesting that you should bring up this topic today as I’ve been struggling both with my perception, words and thoughts. I agree with all that you have said. Your perceptions often times manifest themselves in your reality. It can be a challenge recognizing when we have entered into the world of limitation–that’s where I found myself today. So what I did was take a moment to assess things, beginning first with my thoughts. Sometimes it’s necessary to listen to yourself and hear what you are saying to yourself mentally and verbally. I found that when I identified the negativity statements I could then counter with something empowering to move me forward.

Cat

“Lose” weight. Not “loose” weight.

Michael Port

I don’t charge for my typos, they’re free. But, thanks for pointing it out.

John Chancellor

You missed “marking”, 4th paragraph from end, s/b “marketing” but as Michael says, he does not charge for typos.

Michael Port

Funny. I even told my girlfriend that this post would have more typos that usual b/c I repeat so many words throughout. At the least… I hope I can inspire some other dyslexic, non-academic types that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to…

Ruminator

Excuse me! I’m one of those non-dyslexic, academic types, yet I aspire to achieve. Your choice of words excludes me… My self esteem is so broken… 😉

Michael Port

Don’t worry, there’s hope for you too 🙂

Emily

Great post, Michael! Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Steve

I just sent this to my two nephews Michael. We all share this liability. Thank you.

Michael Port

Wonderful 🙂

Rosalind

Just what I needed to read today!

Thank you Michael!

Brad Blackman

Leonardo da Vinci wrote about something he called “prospettiva.” It’s been misinterpreted as “perspective,” but it’s more about seeing forward. In other words, how you think affects the way you see things.

Shimon Brodie

Michael,
Great post, thanks. Just wanted to point out that limiting language can be extremely helpful when applied precisely and effectively. A man I coached “stopped” smoking cigarettes numerous times, because there is no contradiction between stopping and starting again later. However, when I reframed yesterday’s cigarette as “his LAST cigarette” he realized that he only had one chance to make that true, and he hasn’t had a cigarette since (I think it’s about 3-4 years)
All the best, Shimon

Dale Dillon Lips

Really enjoyed your post Michael! This is a great example of the power of words and language. Sometimes I feel that people are shouting at me on the internet with the declarative wording, exclamation marks, etc.

Maryellen

Great topic Michael! Using language intentionally and mindfully is one of the quickest ways to change your outcomes…and I can say that confidently! 🙂

Susanne Morrone

Wonderful topic, Michael. Made me think of King Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs about “life and death is in the power of the tongue.” We can offend/wound or encourage/benefit others by our choice of words. Solomon also said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Thanks for this blog and your wealth of wisdom presented at Make and Impact Live in Chicago! 🙂

John Falchetto

Studies have shown that we say between 400 to 1000 words a day to ourselves, most of the words we tell ourselves aren’t too kind.
Just being conscious of the self talk is critical to start to manage our results.

Thanks for reminding me that what we tell ourselves matters, a lot more than what we tell others.

Nancy Marmolejo

Hi Michael, I love this post!
What’s interesting is that some people are actually drawn to the declarative language, convinced that this is the way to sell, even if it feels like a mismatch.

What I enjoy most about your thoughts are how transparent you are, jumping in and out of the commentary to observe your own language use: “Whether it’s on little things or big things, all generalities are false (including that one).”
🙂

Thank you for being a great example of honesty and integrity!
🙂
Nancy

Chantal

Thank you for the reminder. And for the confirmation. I like to point out to my interlocutor the generalities and the declarations they make, making them aware of their mind frame. And of course my family knows it first hand. So much so that my son invented a verb: To chantal someone.
Every once in a while they return the favor and “chantal” me. It’s a good a good reality check because it demonstrates immediately my mindset.

Marilyn R Williams

Excellent advice. However, a word of caution – sometimes words may be used to manipulate and can lead you to believe something a person deliberately didn’t say.

For example, I had a partner that used “could” instead of “would,” leaving me to believe he would do as he promised. But, when it came time for him to follow through, he sneered and replied – “I said I COULD, not WOULD and therefore, do not intend on doing so.” Of course, honest people usually don’t manipulate and using words that leave possibilities is most likely a good course of action.

I am going to watch what I say – especially in the area of what I can and can’t do and what I think of other people. 🙂 Again, thanks for the great message.

Susan Belgard

An intriguing, life- and world-changing topic!! A few years ago I took a wonderful course on “Appreciative Inquiry”, which was first used in the context of organization development and has since been adopted as a coaching modality. One primary tenet of AI is that “words create worlds”. What we think and what we say become our “reality”. Another tenet is that what we call reality is malleable. If we change our words, we open up new possibilities the moment we speak in a new way. So change comes at the very beginning, not just at the end. And, if we begin to conjure up an idea, image or dream of a new and compelling future, we start taking actions that lead us there. Many of these ideas have been strongly reinforced by programs on the Law of Attraction, intentionality and similar concepts. For me, my self-talk has radically changed and I catch myself more quickly now in how I think
about and speak to other people. There’s an amazing sense of freedom that has come with my deeper understanding of the power of words.

Bill Thurman

Yes, it’s true. The WAY you say things to people means a LOT. Declaration statements used too often leave no room for dialogue.
BT

Monica Strobel

Hi Michael– Wise take on a simple shift in language that can open up positivity more easily than affirmations and other techniques. In particular, I like how you suggest leaving a door open for another option instead of being accusatory — can really help keep someone’s perception of themselves higher, so they can continue to grow into their best self. I so strongly believe in the simple power of language.

Arlene Knickerbocker

Thanks for the excellent post.

In editing, I’ve noticed how subtle changes make a huge difference. You bring out some excellent points.

For the past few years, I’ve been more aware of the power of words. I’m working on a book entitled, “Like Sticks and Stones, Words are More than Weapons.” I’m focusing on the positive potential too often neglected.

Ana Melikian

I love this post.
Language can be very powerful and our self talk may work a lot as self-fulling prophecies – so way not using that to our favor…

Steve Eyton

This is very timely. Supervisors and managers might benefit and probably motivate (rather then de-motivate) with the proper use of words! In other words, this might be good for all situations.

Kathleen OSullivan

Michael,

A hearty amen! I affirm that we create our world by the words we choose. I would offer another word to be aware of . . . BUT. I’m finding that by simply replacing the word BUT with the word AND it makes a monumental difference – for me and those I’m sharing with. Onward and Upward!

Shaya Kass

Michael – Beautifully said! It goes well the work I am doing on my self and with clients with the Sedona method which facilitates changing your beliefs and thoughts. I try to catch myself whenever I have a limiting thought. Generalizations limit the possibilities to zero!

Please keep up the good work.

Tara

Great article! So true.
~Tara

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