“Choose your words wisely - they have power” is a phrase I have heard throughout my life. I agree with this to a certain point. Our reactions and internal responses to words and phrases are often deeply seated, impactful, and complex. I will write more about our emotional responses to words and phrases in my next blog. For now, I want to focus briefly on the language and words we experience.
Oddly enough, a single word or a simple phrase can have completely different meanings for different people. Though a word or phrase has a dictionary definition, and even a generally, culturally accepted or understood meaning, that word or phrase is often personally interpreted wholly differently by people depending on their own experiences with that word or phrase.
I often associate certain feelings or situations with certain words and phrases and have found this to be a surprisingly common thing. Each of us has our own, personal version of the language or languages we speak and understand. This version is created and nurtured through our unique, individual experiences, ranging from how we learned the words and language to how others around us use those same words, expressions, and other forms of communication. As an added layer to our learning and use of language, there are the feelings and emotions that come up when certain words, expressions or phrases are used.
I am sometimes at a complete loss for a word to perfectly describe a feeling or situation in English while working with a client or student. This lack of “just the right word” or “just the right expression” is usually when I am trying to clearly communicate my understanding of an esoteric feeling or situation. Since my personal experience of that feeling or situation happened solely or most intensely while French or German, I relate more clearly to that word or phrase in French or German.
I continue to find that each language has certain words and phrases that perfectly embody a very specific feeling or situation. You don’t have to know more than one language to intrinsically understand and have experience with this. Sometimes there is just “you know, ummm…. “ THAT.
How is this relevant to people who do not speak multiple languages?
How is this important in our lives generally?
Both questions can be answered with: It is relevant and important because it is about clear, effective, and consistent communication - with others and with ourselves.
The importance and power of the words we use during conversations with ourselves are often overlooked. Those words and phrases we use during those internal conversations and discussions are very important to pay attention to. Why are they important to consider?
Here is a challenge for you - the next few times you find yourself considering something and having an internal conversation, heighten your awareness slightly by paying attention to your language - the words and phrases - you use with yourself. This is not intended to criticize yourself or become self-conscious and, therefore, to start editing yourself. It is intended to be simple self-observation. As a starting point, try observing the following:
In what situations to do you find yourself holding these conversations with yourself?
What feelings and emotions accompany the language you use?
How nice or mean are you to yourself?
These internal conversations, both the nice and the mean ones, can easily bleed into the rest of our lives. For example, criticizing myself for making mistakes puts me in the mindset of using those negative, critical words and phrases when speaking with others if I think they have made a mistake.
How does this relate to teaching and coaching?
Being open to rethinking which words and phrases to use internally and externally directly impacts every aspect of my coaching and teaching approaches. When my client or student does not understand what I am saying or what I am trying to express, it is my job, my challenge, to say it and express it differently until we have a mutually similar understanding. I have tried to learn and embody the antithesis of my worst teachers’ statements of: “If you don’t understand what I am telling you, YOU figure it out.” This is fundamentally wrong on every level. If my client or student does not understand what I am trying to convey, it is fully my job to continue to explore different words, change phrases, and modify approaches until the “ahah” moment happens.
I find this to be an exciting, fun and satisfying challenge I take on with aplomb.
Exploring the meanings of words and phrases can be an interesting, frustrating, and satisfying challenge that is worth the time and effort. The words and phrases we use during our internal and external conversations have the power to uplift and support or undermine and tear down.
You have the ability to choose how to wield that power. I encourage you to always choose to uplift and support yourself and others.