5 words to change for more powerful communication

written by Erica Quam

Communication is a leadership skill that we can work on and improve. 

Words are powerful. The things we say shape our experiences and relationships.

Teach your student-athletes how to choose responsible language. Words are the difference between life happening to us and standing in our power. 

Words can assign unintended blame and bring conversation to an end. Help your athletes become aware of the language they use and the impact words have. Teach them how changing a few simple words will help them become more powerful.

Here are 5 examples of words to consider changing:

1. Eliminate the word 'BUT'

Whatever you say after the word 'but' negates everything you said beforehand. It's usually used when you're trying to soften part of your message.

For example: "I'm all for my student-athletes having a good college experience, but I want them to prioritize their sport." 

Change BUT to AND: "I'm all for my student-athletes having a good college experience and I want them to prioritize their sport." 

Get rid of the word 'but'. It's confusing!

2. Steer clear of 'WE'

For example: "We don’t support the decision to change the practice schedule."

Unless you are in a position to speak for others, this is simply not a good way to communicate. Using the word “we” indicates a commonality that may not be appropriate, appreciated, or shared by others. It sounds presumptuous. 

It drove me crazy as a coach when an athlete would come into the office and would not speak directly to me. I would always ask, "Who is we? Can you bring them in the office with you? Are you speaking for you or for someone else?"

Teach your athletes how to be direct and own their own stuff, "I don’t support the decision to change the practice schedule." Let the others speak for themselves.

3.  Watch out for 'YOU'

For example, "The way you give me feedback makes me so mad." 

Statements that use the word 'you' almost always end-up being taken for blame. To say nothing of the fact (at least with this example) that no one can make anyone feel anything. You are responsible for your own feelings. Try owning your feelings, "I get mad when I listen to your feedback."

4. No 'SHOULD's or 'HAVE TO's

Whether you use this with yourself or you are telling someone else. It comes across as judgmental, critical, and negative. For example, "I should definitely eat healthier." or "I have to change the way I eat." Put yourself back in control. As my yoga teacher says, "Don't should on yourself."

Do it or don't do it - because you either want to or don't want to. Stay in the driver's seat!

5. Avoid 'ALWAYS' and 'NEVER'

Absolutes are tricky. Extreme language shuts down the other side of the conversation. "I always do that." or "You never ever say hi to me." Use words like occasionally and sometimes or seldom and rarely to keep the conversation flowing.

Bring this to your team. Have a conversation. You could have them come up with real life examples of conversations that highlight the use of these words. Ask when they have been on either end of a miscommunication and how language played a role.

Let me know how it goes!

Do you have any other examples? Share one in the comments below.