Thoughts and Comments from Lucy Seifert
The Oxford English Dictionary was reprinted in January 2018 with more than 1,100 new words, phrases and meanings. New words and expressions may reflect the changes in society and technology and the world scene.
Some 21st century introductions are more colloquial, such as “hangry”, combining hungry and angry, to indicate a bad temper as a result of feeling hungry. It also includes long established terms, like “me time” as well as new trending words include 'Cryptocurrency' and 'chiweenie' (a cross between a Chihuahua and a dachshund).
Sometimes new inclusions mark special occasions. In September 2016, the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth, the quarterly update marked the occasion with many new entries connected to his writing. These included:
- splendiferous, (humourous word for splendid)
- human bean, (a “humourous alteration” of human being)
- scrumdiddlyumptious, “for those occasions when scrumptious simply won’t do”
(Jonathan Dent, OED).
Language is constantly changing and our individual uses of language reflect our outlook, generation, view of the world and how pessimistic or optimistic we are.
In this blog we consider how your choice of words and phrases has a powerful impact. It can either empower or disempower you and/or others:
- It reflects how you feel about yourself
- It also further affects, either positively or negatively, how you feel yourself.
- It impacts on how others perceive and so respond to you.
- This in turn affects your level of self-esteem.
You can disempower yourself, without even a little help from your ‘friends’!
Do you ever preface what you want to say with words and phrases that either:
- minimise the importance of what you want to convey, or
- have the opposite effect from that you intend?
I call this ‘negative prefacing’. Here are five examples:
1. Minimising prefaces
When you minimise your message, you can also end up putting yourself down in the process. Both these and self-deprecatory remarks reflect your own self-doubt and put seeds of doubt in other people’s minds.
- This may not be important but…
- I’m not sure if this is relevant but …
- This may sound trivial but…
- I know this is pathetic but...
2. Self-deprecatory prefaces
I may be wrong but...
- This might be a stupid idea but...
- I know this sounds awful but …
- This is probably a dreadful thing to say…
- I expect you’ll think I’m horrible saying this…
f you tell someone that your idea is possibly trivial or stupid, that’s what they’ll expect. If you say in advance that your contribution may not be relevant, people may ignore it. You are setting yourself up not to be heard, not to be taken seriously. If you tell someone in advance that you may be wrong or it’s a dreadful thing to say, they’ll expect you to be wrong and that you’re about to say something dreadful. Perhaps you’ve chosen to say it to pre-empt them saying to you!
3. Apologetic prefaces
If you want someone’s attention, advice or help, these unassertive prefaces are not the best way to ensure it.
- Could I have a quick word?
- I’m terribly sorry to disturb you…
- I hope I’m not troubling you at an awkward time…
- I know this may not be the best time for you…
4. Adverse prefaces
Some prefacing, designed to soften the blow, increases the blow and is more likely to generate conflict. Adverse prefacing ensures that your statement is unacceptable to the other party even before you begin. In suggesting how you expect them to feel, you fuel their emotions. Here are examples:
- I hope you won’t be angry or upset but…
- I don’t mean to offend you but ….
- I hope you won’t feel let down but…
- I don’t want to hurt your feelings but…
Such verbal triggers are likely to result in the other person feeling angry, upset, offended, disappointed and hurt, precisely the opposite of what you hope for.
5. Aggressive prefaces
Starting a conversation aggressively brings a potential for conflict.
- Don’t take this the wrong way
- You’re not going to like this
- I don’t mean to be rude…
- I’ve wanted to say this for ages…
- To be perfectly, or even ‘brutally’ honest…
The other person will expect something rude and unpalatable. It may stop them wanting to hear what you have to say, after all, you may be giving them a shock as to what’s coming!
So drop these unnecessary verbal triggers and instead go ahead and say what you want to say, clearly, politely and respectfully.
As well as all these prefaces, avoid punctuating your message with negative words and phrases
6. Hesitant words or statements include:
- It’s only…
- It’s just that…
- I’m not exactly sure if this is the case but…
- Sorry if I sound…I was just wondering if…
- Only, just, perhaps, maybe, possibly
Once again these apologetic and passive approaches can disempower you and create uncertainty for you and for others.
7. Distracting ‘punctuations’
Punctuating your flow with “like”, “and I’m like”, “you know” is distracting and also reduces the seriousness and impact of your message.
8. Cut the clichés
Avoid expressions that gain you thinking time but say nothing. They irritate and distract your listeners. Examples are “going forward”, at this moment in time” “at the end of the day” and “with all due respect”, this last often being a precursor to showing no respect at all!
So if you believe that YOLO* and you FOMO* and you want to be able to SQUEE* about the future, take stock of your language and use positive and assertive expressions and diplomatic and negotiating approaches to build positive relationships and situations.
* Oxford English Dictionary definitions:
YOLO You only live once; used to express the view that one should make the most of the present moment without worrying about the future
FOMO, meaning fear of missing out
SQUEE used to express great delight and enjoyment
Being aware of the power of words and how you use them will greatly affect how assertively or unassertively you come across.
If you’d like to talk about this or other aspects of assertive communication, please let me know. You are welcome to have 15 minute discussion without charge, commitment or judgement. Simply contact me to arrange a mutually convenient time.
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