I recently read an article in Business Insider about how often women overuse the word 'just'. In it, the author points out that it has become a 'permission word' that dilutes our message and weakens us when we speak. I've certainly found this to be the case: not only in our words, but in our voices, energy, and body language, we often apologize for what it is we say, as well as for ourselves saying it.
Nothing has highlighted the importance of how I speak and the words I choose more than having a child. Our awareness as adults doesn't begin to compare with the carefulness of children's listening and their diligent observation.
Thanks to Lucas, I've recognized and cleaned up some of my own less effective speaking and listening habits. For example, statements that sound even the slightest bit like questions (tonally turning up at the end), invite disagreement. This is fine when we're exploring, learning and having a discussion, but not when something's closed for debate. "It's time to go to bed, OK?" just doesn't cut it.
Similarly, my certainty about an outcome is as powerful- if not more so- than the words I use about what I want to happen. If I don't know that Lucas will go to bed at 8pm- or return a toy to a friend, or stop at the street corner- he is less likely to do so... regardless of what I say.
Interestingly, one of my biggest communication lessons has involved a single word choice. As Lucas entered toddlerhood and became more active, I noticed that my admonition to 'be careful' didn't feel good- to either of us- no matter how I said it. Implicit in the words were a fear and heaviness I rarely felt until after I said them; my choice of language was suggesting an emotional state that then became reality.
I therefore replaced 'careful' with the word 'mindful' and immediately noticed a change. Gone were the heaviness and fear; in their place emerged a sense of thoughtfulness as well as a calm awareness of self, others, and objects in both myself and Lucas. As with the women who removed the word 'just' from their vocabularies, this simple shift had a profound and positive impact.
It's funny that I should be surprised by the power of language, given that in my work I place tremendous importance on the words we choose when speaking about our instruments and ourselves. Even common words like 'high' and 'low' can adversely influence how singers perceive and attempt to engage with certain pitches, regardless of how well trained they are. It's therefore critical for them- and all of us- to carefully select language that empowers and enables us, rather than default to words that impair our performance and sense of wellbeing.
Following my 'careful versus mindful' discovery, I spent a few days looking deliberately at my words and communication habits- in every area of my life- and was fascinated to see, unbeknownst to me, how many ineffective ones had crept in (including an all too frequent occurrence of that pesky 'just').
Consider taking on this 'word watching' project yourself for a day or two. Some of you may even want to keep a journal and jot down ways of speaking that surprise you, for better and worse. Once we become more conscious of the language we choose to use and the way we speak, we not only become more effective communicators. The quality of our relationships improves dramatically as well, including the ones we have with our children and ourselves.
You can learn more about Jennifer's books, work and approach at: www.FindingYourVoice.com