Remember your favourite teacher? Chances are they were your favourite because they spoke great life-giving words into your life. Did you ever see Hilary Swank as devoted teacher Erin Grewal in Freedom Writers? She told one of her pupils: “I am not letting you fail. Even if that means coming to your house to finish the work. I see who you are. Do you understand me? I can see you. And you are not failing”. If someone had said that to you, wouldn’t you carry it forever?
The words we use out in the world can move mountains for us. When the rhetoric of the great leaders was analysed, psychologist saw their speeches were weighed down with positive language. Think Gandhi, Churchill, Oprah! Follow some world leaders on Twitter, they are never down on themselves or the world around them. Eleanor Roosevelt: “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in their leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves”.
What about the news. As the Scientific American says, If we speak of the “war” against terrorism, for instance, that implies battlefield solutions. Calling it disease suggests another approach. What about if we described terrorism as “an opportunity for a different discourse among leaders” to elicit a different response? Here is a beautiful video to illustrate my point in another way:
We can and should take these findings into our own lives and work. Thinking about our career, there are ways that we can steer outcomes just with the power of what comes out of our mouths. Just as I recommend that we go on a “negativity fast” in our self-talk I think we can be a lot smarter in our interviews and general language at work.
Consider the impact of word choice below:
“I helped brainstorm our new training website” or “I developed content for the new training website which has resulted in a 60% uptake in courses taken”.
Both answers are reasonable, but one conveys a significant accomplishment and the other is a bit forgettable. In the first answer, the word “helped” is vague. To an interviewer, this could mean that you presented poignant ideas—but it could also signify that you were a near-silent participant on a conference planning call. The second option is more active. Strong descriptive words are added; not only did you come up with ideas, but they were impactful! Projects can be “award-winning” or “result in a 70% reduction in overheads”.
You can make a list of words that you want to convey. I often write down clever expressions in the margin of my diary. Things I’ve read in the press or that I heard working in informational interviews. Examples of solution-focused language during an interview can convey a fantastic impression of you and your abilities.
In preparing for the job I have now…
I asked the first interviewer that I had what the second interviewer (Global Head of Talent Acquisition) was like and how should I prepare for interview. She said “pepper your language with project management terms as she has directed major hiring programmes strategically”. It was such great advice. I went in feeling more relevant and could connect more quickly with her. There is a lot to be said for learning the lingo of the day and employing it tactically.
Which words you use should depend on what kind of role you’re after. If you’re applying for a job as an assistant, for instance, use words to show you’re responsible and get results and less about your leadership prowess.
Always Use Solution-Focused Language
In any office conversation that is spiralling the wrong way, you can be the one who spins the tone of meetings, without overcommitting yourself. “A different way to look at this could be… ” or “There will be a way to change our approach, let’s pause and get together again in a week” or “This issue could be a catalyst for positive change if we play it right” or “Given some extra resource my team and I could come up with an alternative solution here”.
It’s not performing magic; it’s just changing your language to reflect your capableness, lateral-mindedness, resourcefulness , critical thinking and ability to work under pressure. Not to mention the good old “I don’t have the answer for that now but I will find out, talk to X and come back to you by Y”. Obvious, but they might need to become more of a staple in our language.
When it comes to negotiating for money, rises, flexible working, a tweaked role, words have power. Talk from an upbeat angle about commercial upsides for your proprosal discussing expected success, growth, profit, possibilities for expansion, gains and the situation being equitable and fair.
Prepare, prepare, prepare for difficult conversations so that you are not left humming and umming and coming across as negative or uncertain. And DON’T apologise. Kate Moss: “Never apologise, never explain”. One final word from Forbes on words that actually diminish your message. Have fun experimenting!