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Tim Hawkes

Unlimited Potential

Managing Director

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Eight words not to use in the workplace


Some people may have a way with words, but Tim Hawkes thinks it's the words you don't say that could change your work life.
A few years ago my boss said to me "You have clearly put a lot of work into this project and I am very grateful but we have decided to drop it for another initiative". At the time the comment annoyed me - however it was not, perhaps, for the reason you may think.
The fact that something I had worked on so hard had been shelved could be the source of my annoyance; I knew from the beginning that there was a good chance the project wasn't going anywhere so this did not come as a huge surprise to me. So what was it that annoyed me?
My inspiration came a few months later when I was in a training session put on by my company. The trainer was talking about the dangers of using the word 'but', explaining that by using the word 'but' you are discrediting everything you said in the words preceding it. 
So in the example my boss was saying 'you have put a lot of work into this' - which on the face of it sounds like setting a good leadership example. Then the word 'but' arrives, essentially allowing the speaker to wipe away everything that they have said before and steamrolling it with their own approach, in this case 'a new initiative'.
In the training where I had my realisation, I was told to replace the word 'but' with the word 'and'. Re-reading the sentence it now becomes more inclusive and friendly. 
A good example of how effective this can be is as follows - Compare the following phrases:
  • 'I love you but I have to leave you'
  • 'I love you and I have to leave you'
The meanings are very different; one is inclusive, the other dismissive. It demonstrates a complete shift in the meaning of what has been said.
This, to me, was a revelation around the importance and impact of key words in our conversations. Having micro-assessed the words that annoyed me I came out with an understanding of how to speak more inclusively, and also developed an awareness of the critical nature with which we choose our words. With this in mind I wondered whether there were any other words we used regularly which, if avoided, could change how we live our lives forever. Amazingly, I came up with eight.
Here are eight words that, if you stopped using them, could change your life.

But 'That’s great, now this is what I think'

Discredits everything said before it and gives the user the chance to railroad them with their own ideas. Always replace with the word 'and' however uncomfortable that may seem.

Don't – 'Do as I say'

Used when you are imposing your will onto others, if you use this word when you need people on your side be prepared for them to reject what you're saying

Would – 'Expect to be exploited'

You are demonstrating a weakness or lack of commitment, generally only used when you are not completely sure on a subject and looking for confirmation. There is no issue with demonstrating weakness, however deliver it in a constructive meaningful way.

Should –  A pointless word with no use

'Should' is essentially stating something that you or someone else thinks must happen, but there is no commitment to making it so.

Never – One word to make you into a fool

You are opening yourself up to the possibility of being wrong, however unlikely. When talking to an individual who likes powerplay they will exploit your 'never' comments.

Try – 'Do or do not, There is no try' - Yoda.

Try simply means 'won't bother', or to not give 100%. Commitments must be 100% or not at all.

Can't – There is no such word as can’t

How often is this said to children and yet as adults we still use it. 'Can't' is a negative word that is unsupportive and relationship damaging.

Won't – How to lose friends fast

'I won't do it', 'you won't help me' - these words are a strong statement of negativity ensuring the end of a conversation.
I am not saying that you will begin a life of not using these words the moment you stop reading this article; I have found that just by knowing about the impact of these words it can change the very conversations that you have forever.
Tim Hawkes is Managing director of Unlimited Potential, a company the provides coaching culture solutions to organisations. The company provides coaching and training to create environments where inspiring leaders have amazing conversations that generate great results

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Tim Hawkes

Managing Director

Read more from Tim Hawkes

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