Whether or not you realize it, you convey hidden messages about yourself through your diction.
Your word choices reveal your level of confidence in yourself and your statements—and subsequently influence how others perceive and treat you.
Words to Power
- Fluff. If you want people to question your intelligence and authority, talk like a Valley girl. Otherwise, eschew like, whatever, so on, kind of, sort of, um and other pause words that put the brakes on meaning.
- Defensive phrases. Terms like just, I think, arguably and in my opinion make your listeners question your conviction and message.
- Aptitude terms. When you say, “I’ll try,” you betray an insecurity that spreads to your audience. Overconfidence is equally disquieting. Telling a coworker, “Don’t worry about it” is not only dismissive but shuts down opportunities for collaboration.
- Condescending words. Terms such as actually, obviously and clearly suggest you think your audience is ignorant, and that’s a good way to make them tune out.
- Mea culpa. We’re not saying you should never apologize—accepting responsibility for the consequences of your actions is the mature response. Just don’t say “sorry” when something goes awry due to circumstances outside your control.
- Hyperbole. Very, absolutely, totally, tremendously, incredibly and similar emphasis words achieve the opposite of their intended effect. Your message is stronger without them.
The 6 Rungs of Speaking Power
In my Working with Emotional Intelligence class, I share a handout titled “Escaping Victim Mud—The Power of Your Words” from Falling Awake: Creating the Life of Your Dreams.
We discuss how to climb Dave Ellis’ six rungs of powerful speaking from least to most powerful:
- Obligation. If you use terms like should, must, have to and ought, you’re speaking at the bottom rung of Ellis’ ladder. This tells others you are acting not out of desire but duty.
- Possibility. People at this level choose words like consider, maybe, might, could and hope. The attitude is more positive, but these words tell listeners you don’t feel in control of the outcome.
- Preference. Bartleby fans know the power of prefer, as in, “I would prefer not to.” Moving from should to might to want shows a progression of control. Those who prefer and want are expressing their goals in a way that impacts the audience more deeply.
- Passion. When you speak with enthusiasm (excited, can’t wait and love), you capture listeners through your energetic expressiveness. There is a difference between gushing and acting, however, and your words will feel hollow if you don’t have the evidence to back them up.
- Plan. When you present a plan to achieve specific goals, you demonstrate your control over the situation and your strategy for achieving the desired results. This is when the abstract becomes concrete for your listeners.
- Promise. At the apex of Ellis’ ladder is promise (will, do, promise), and that’s where dream transforms into reality. At the most powerful rung, you will captivate your audience and engage them in your commitment to action.
Different situations call for different rungs in the communication ladder. Perpetually balancing on the top rung is unrealistic and even inappropriate in certain contexts.
What Are You Telling People?
As a co-active coach, I can help you assess how your language influences others’ perceptions of you and how you can achieve a more positive reception, whether speaking, leading or collaborating. Call me at 541.601.0114 or email me to start climbing the ladder toward a more powerful you.