Good Words Gone Bad

Ever say “good luck” to somebody before a business presentation, or sports tournament? We all do! There’s nothing wrong with that, and yet it may imply that they need ‘luck’ in order to succeed. Travis Bradberry, founder of TalentSmart® and author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0®, suggests a better option:

Better options: “I know you have what it takes” or as Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book Option B, try saying “You got this!” In this way we reflect somebody else’s capability, preparation, and planning and that the impending good results belong to them, not Lady Luck.

Travis also observes that we may, with the very best of intentions, say “You look tired” (in our most sympathetic voice). Looking tired is a sad face, droopy eyes, slouched posture etc. He suggests a

Better option: “How are you Feeling?” (and then truly slow down, listen, and unpack their response with curiosity and less advice or agreement).

In addition, Travis wrote sometimes in a conversation we may say, “As I said before..” which implies that they weren’t listening or they weren’t paying attention. And BTW, as you repeat yourself, they have become consumed with the thought that you are mad at them, mocking them, embarrassing them, or just don’t like them.

Here’s my Better option A: “I may not have said that right, please let me rephrase…” Accept responsibility beyond what you say and be more responsible for what they hear. I had managers say to me “I told them….” or “I was very clear with them…” And my response was, I am less interested in what we said, and more interested in what they heard.

Better option B: Try saying, “Could you please re-play for me what we just discussed, as I may not have covered the most important points.” If they play back what you were trying to express properly and are on track – good. If not, go back to Better option A above.

Here’s another example:

After someone thanks us for something we did, we commonly say, “No problem” or “no worries.” And that is actually negative language. We take the negative word “no” and the negative word “problem” slam them together and say “No Problem!” It says we thought you might be a problem – turns out you weren’t a problem – and so no problem.   

Better Option: Ever been to Chick-Fil-A, and they get your order right or give you napkins and ketchup and you thank them? Their response is – “My Pleasure.” It is a deep part of their training. That is positive language. Try saying my pleasure or try using other positive language, “I am glad to” or “Happy to help” instead of the negative language, like “No worries.”  Our society has conditioned our mind to negative language that we don’t even realize its impact as we say things, but our mind sure picks up on things said to us by others.

Ok, a few more:

“If you really want to.” This may appear to be accommodating at first, and may not be genuine.  Whenever you mention this to someone, or someone says to you this phrase, you’re actually being noncommittal. It may sound like you’re going along with the plan, but inside, you’re not all that thrilled.

Better option:  “You seem to have conviction for this issue, let’s do it your way.

“Thanks in advance” or “Please and Thank-you.” This is one that gets under my skin. It feels so condescending to me, like they don’t have time to be polite. They say thank-you before I have done anything, like I’m forced to do something, and they thank me without even appreciating my effort, and at that I point, I have applied no effort! That’s not polite, it is manipulative.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful.” The mind does not think in negatives. The next thing out of someone’s mouth following this phrase, is most assuredly disrespectful. If you say, “I have no interest in throwing you under the bus” or “I have no interest in getting you in trouble.” What are they thinking about? Right – the exact opposite.

Better option: “I want to be encouraging and was thinking…” the next thing you say will be more positive less disrespectful

How about  “Oh, I was just kidding.” No, their hard-hitting personal attack joke was real, and it went over badly in a crowd, and they are doing damage control. Hard-hitting humor, as we all know, can be very hurtful.

And the double whammy, this phrase makes us feel even worse, like we weren’t smart enough to see they were only kidding. This phrase is a compound insult.  

Catch phrases of gratitude are bad. Slowing down and being real in our gratitude is Good.


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