Change your words, change your relationships

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.”

Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“Words! What power they hold. Once they have rooted in your psyche, it is difficult to escape them. Words can shape the future of a child and destroy the existence of an adult.
Words are powerful. Be careful how you use them because once you have pronounced them, you cannot remove the scar they leave behind.”
Vashti Quiroz-Vega

It’s easy to get into linguistic habits that profoundly effect your relationships. By changing just two simple patterns your interactions will improve immeasurably.

If you find yourself saying: “Yes, but…” actively work to change that to “Yes, and….” This tiny linguistic adjustment will shift people’s unconscious perceptions of you from negative to neutral or even positive. When you say “Yes, but…” the “but” negates what you said before it. If you are trying to win friends and influence people, saying “Yes, and…” gives the impression of inclusivity, and comes across in a more positive way.

Another pattern that hinders relationships is the use of the word “You.” If you are in the habit of starting every sentence with the word “you” be aware this can come across as blaming, judging, assuming, shaming, criticizing, condescending, even accusatory. This negative message gets transmitted to your listener both consciously and unconsciously. Consciously, people may react defensively. Unconsciously, they might avoid you. Neither is conducive to nurturing safe, close relationships.

To get out of the habit of approaching people with the word you, unless it’s “My, you look beautiful,” start your thoughts with the word “I.” For example, instead of saying “You’d better watch out, something as tiny as an extra piece of bread can really pack on the pounds.” You might say, “I find changing just one thing, like skipping that extra piece of bread, really helps me maintain my weight.” The first one sounds condescending, shaming, blaming, judgmental, and critical. The second one sounds a bit more friendly, and informational. Of course, talking about weight is probably not a great idea no matter how semantically diplomatic your delivery.

To make matters even more complicated, the way you speak has profound effects on the way you think, and vice-versa. By saying “Yes, but…” you have already dismissed whatever it was you were supposedly agreeing with. The whole construct is designed to get your opinion out as fast as possible while rejecting the other person’s, albeit in a socially sanctioned way. Ultimately, this linguistic habit gives people the impression you don’t value their input. By saying “you” rather than “I,” you create a wedge between yourself and the other person. It’s subtle, but over time, its effects accrue.

By thinking before you say something, you give yourself the opportunity to abort the idea completely. If that takes too much time, just changing “you” to “I” will shift the emotional quality, valence, and meta-message. Try it for one week and notice the changes in people’s reactions to you and your reactions to them.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.