Mind your language

by | Dec 2, 2019 | Leadership

The other day, I was playing in a group tennis coaching session. There were 6 of us and, at one point, we were playing 3 against 3, the winning side being the first to get to 21 points. My side started off winning several points in a row but then had a losing streak at which point the coach, Brian, piped up saying we’d “regressed”.

What do you think and feel when you hear the word “regressed”? For me, there’s an implication of having intentionally gone downhill – it makes me feel negative and demotivated. The reality? We’d lost a few points in a row. That’s all. And in fact we went on to win the game. (I picked him up on his choice of word, by the way!)

Language is powerful.
The words we use say alot about the meaning we attach to a situation. Yet more than that, they create or limit what we do or don’t do.

For example, I had a coaching conversation with a manager recently who felt there was nothing left for her in the organisation she was working in, yet she was finding it difficult to move on. When I probed further, she said that she felt “embedded” in the organisation. That word “embedded” caught my attention – it became apparent that she felt that her long tenure at the organisation meant the possibility of her going somewhere else was significantly reduced.

Yet the reality was that she’d been at the organisation for 5 years. That’s it. It didn’t mean she was like a fossil in a rock that could only be removed through a slow and painstaking process.

Language creates our experience 
As Chalmers Brothers says in his excellent TEDxtalk How language generates your world and mine, language doesn’t just describe our experience, it creates and generates our experience. Our explanations of what happens to us our more important than the event : “it is our explanations that are springboards for action not the event itself”.

What explanations have you created and are holding to be true which are not helpful?
For example, you describe yourself after a long period in an organisation as “institutionalised”. Or you describe your life as a “struggle”. Or perhaps you say to yourself, “I haven’t got a degree therefore I’m not as worthy of the same opportunities as colleagues who are graduates”.

What’s the reality? What does that make possible for you that your “explanation” doesn’t?

I leave you with a final quote from Lao Tzu : “Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do drop me a line at alison@alisonreid.co.uk.

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps senior managers and directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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