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Annie Richardson

Quantum Developing People


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The power of words and the insight they give us


It is what you say, as well as the way you say it, says Annie Richardson.

I have always been fascinated by language and can remember as a child the joy of learning new words and, therefore, new ways of expressing myself. I began to enjoy the sounds of words as some really did sound 'delicious'; sometimes I got it very wrong as I would be drawn to use a word based more on how it sounded rather than what it actually meant. How interesting now, as I realise the power of words and the insight they give us as to how someone is thinking, and therefore behaving.

Whenever I am coaching I listen with exquisite detail to the words chosen and how they are expressed both verbally and physically. As a coach, I carefully choose my words to be precise and convey exactly what I mean.

As a trainer/coach I advise you to never presuppose you automatically know what is being expressed by a trainee; take time to explore the meaning of words as they are used. Part of the skill in training is to use language; both to listen to gain understanding and meaning; and to convey exactly what you mean in a way that connects with your trainee. I believe the mastery of language, supported by questioning and rapport will lead to the mastery of engagement.

The language we use is indicative of our thinking and therefore predictive of our behaviour and the outcomes that we will get. The careful choice of language and use of specific words will generate thinking patterns and therefore subsequent outcomes. I believe that this is powerful for us personally and for those that we train. For me, there is a deeper level of understanding concerning the actual words chosen in our language patterns.

"...never presuppose you automatically know what is being expressed by a trainee; take time to explore the meaning of words as they are used."

A recent coaching session reminded me of the power of words, both in giving me insight into my coachee’s thinking patterns and subsequent beliefs and in shaping different outcomes just by changing the words.

My coachee (director in a large corporate organisation) was describing the background to his current goals and used the word 'conflict'. Further discussion described this as 'disagreement with people on the other side of the table' and how people were 'entrenched' in their views. I reflected back the choice of words; conflict, how people were always the other side of the table; entrenched, dug in like at a battle scene, and asked my coachee what he expected from these interactions. Not surprisingly, it was not positive!

He was surprised to realise his choice of language and saw how this was predicting the negative and hostile interactions he was having with his team and fellow board members. We then worked on re-wording his description of his goals and he was able to choose alternate ways of expressing himself that enabled a far greater potential for a positive outcome. The conversation quickly and easily flowed into a discussion of values and beliefs and this directly linked to the choice of word as a direct expression of these drivers.

I believe that words directly give insight to thinking patterns and predict behaviour and outcomes, and also that by consciously choosing words, they can flow into us and affect our thinking, state and outcomes.

Annie Richardson, managing director at Quantum Corporate Coaching Ltd, a leading people development specialist helping companies unlock the resources and hidden talents of their most valuable assets – their people. Quantum has helped coach senior leaders from such companies as Fujitsu, Barclays, BBC, Oxford Instruments and Novartis Pharmaceuticals. They provide one-to-one coaching in board executive and leadership coaching

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Annie Richardson


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