Story written by Silas Grant –
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words never hurt.” That’s the age-old saying that encourages us to disregard what people say at all costs. But, shouldn’t we focus on what we say a little more? Sure, words won’t cause someone’s arm to break, but our words can leave relationships and friendships broken. I spend a lot of time typing….typing posts on social platforms, text messages, and emails. And I spend a lot of time deleting and backspacing. I’m always obsessed with making sure that my words are delivered in a particular fashion to ensure that my message is relayed correctly. I take pride in building relationships and maintaining them as well. I see value in others and understand that I can’t do anything alone.
This “Sticks and Stones” series is intended for those who want to master communicating to others without being misunderstood or without including language that can be distracting. Offending others can be disrespectful, but it can also distract the person from seeing your objective. Throughout this series of entries, I want to illustrate scenarios where what we say can be improved to get our messages across in the best way possible. I’ll take common phrases/words and offer alternatives options. I’ll explain how the common phrases/words can be offensive or distracting and then explain how the alternative can help your messaging. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.
1) Common Phrase: “What you don’t understand is….”
This is a common phrase used when a discussion/debate/argument has reached a point where both sides can’t seem to reach a middle ground. Two parties are feverishly explaining their stances and the opposite side is not willing to accept the position taken by the other person arguing. Normally when this phrase is used, the next statement that follows is a repeat of an argument already used in the encounter. This could be a sign that it’s time to end the discussion; especially if the argument is about a topic that lacks substance.
Alternative: “One thing that we could consider”
This phrase is a good alternative for a few reasons. The first is the word “we”. The word “we” is a sign of togetherness. If your goal is to bring about understanding, then using “we” (those of us in the discussion) in arguments is a good tactic to bring people together. The second is the word “could”. “Could” means that it’s a possibility. Often, we believe that our solutions have to be included. Using this language means that it’s a possibility versus a necessity. This keeps the respect of others and their opinions/solutions intact. If you say “one thing that we could consider” versus “what you don’t understand is”, it should be something that hasn’t already been stated. This keeps us from prolonging arguments and going in circles.
Summary: Make your case and end your portion of the argument. Listen to the other side. If you are beyond being capable of agreeing with the other party, find a respectful way to end the debate. Allow your proposed solutions to be just that…proposals. Understanding that until we’ve tried any of the options, we don’t truly know if they are indeed the answer to the problem that could end the argument.
2) Common Phrases: “You always” or “You do this every time..”
These phrases are commonly used in arguments and often are the beginning of the arguments. Spouses commonly use it on one another and so do siblings and friends. In order to state that someone always does something, you must have a long lasting friendship/relationship with them. When trying to relay a message or convey a point, you should remind yourself that this is a friend that I’m engaging with at the moment. If you’ve sensed a pattern (hence the “You do this every time”), remember that patterns aren’t observed without an investment in the relationship. Is it even true that they do something in particular every time a specific scenario occurs? Have they really shot down EVERY suggestion that you’ve ever brought forth? Have they really ALWAYS lied about being “on their way” and not shown up for “EVERY” event that you’ve invited them to? It’s very dangerous to make a statement that assumes that someone’s action is absolutely the same each and every time a specific scenario occurs when you all interact.
Alternatives: “I’ve noticed on some occasions…” or “Sometimes it seems as if…..”
These alternatives still allow you to point out the elephant in the room, which is your observation of the pattern that seems to exist. However, it doesn’t come off as a final judgment. When you state that a person responds a certain way every time a scenario occurs, it could pressure them into never giving that response again. And that’s not good either. So in the examples earlier about suggestions being shot down or not showing up to events, sometimes a suggestion needs to be shot down or sometimes the person really intends on showing up to an event but something comes up. The acknowledgement of the pattern existing without saying it happens every time doesn’t put the critiqued person’s back against the wall.
Summary: Remember the relationship and the ability to observe a pattern because of it. Use the interactions to state patterns that could be detrimental to the friendship without using language that is detrimental to the relationship.
3) Common word: “Just”
“All you wanna do is just…” or “I’m just asking you to do….” We’ve heard those sorts of phrases before. And the word “just” in those phrases has so much power. What makes the word powerful is that using it when talking to someone allows that person you’re talking with to assume that you have absolutely authority on how much of an effort it takes to get whatever you’ve requested of them done. In the event that the person is requesting a favor and you state “All you wanna do is just”, you’ve made an assumption of what their priorities are. “Just” is a very dangerous word to use when describing what you want or what someone wants from you. “It’ll just take 20 minutes”. Maybe they don’t have 20 minutes to spare. “Just do this one favor me”. Maybe they are feeling that the probability of this being your last favor/request is low. In these relationships/friendships, equity is important. People enter relationships and friendships by chance. But once they are in, each person should have some control over the direction of the relationship/friendship. Each person involved is entitled to have their own gauge on the value of their time, the impact that a favor has on their life, and the ability to determine how significant something is to them.
Alternative: “I feel that this is more important to you than it is to me” or “This is important to me”
It’s essential that you state the value of the request from your perspective. But be sure that you are clear on the fact that is merely your perspective. No one wants you imposing your standards and values on topics, items, favors, or requests on them.
Summary: People love the right to reserve the complexity of their makeup. No one is “just” a certain way. And stating that all you need of someone is to “just” (fill in the blank) is assuming that something else won’t come up in the process. Leave some room for the unknown and leave some room for the other person to feel respected.
Let me know what you think. Leave a comment and share the writeup with a friend or loved one.