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Is How You Speak Sabotaging Your Success? Seven Ways Wield The Power Your Words Hold

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at July 23, 2021

Have you ever heard yourself saying:

“This situation (or person) is impossible.”

“I’m a total loser at…”

“I’ll never be able to …”

“They’re all a bunch of total…”

“It’s such a nightmare.”

If you answered “yes” to any of those, you’ve unconsciously speaking in ways that either sabotage your own success or diminish your ability to influence others in positive ways.

I was once engaged to coach a ‘hi-po’ manager who was was causing huge issues in his team. As we sat down for the initial conversation he described his boss as a total and utter loser. ‘Even a fool can get the time right twice a day,’ he said, rationalizing his behavior.

I’ve also heard many other people talking themselves down, describing themselves as hopeless or helpless or a ‘lost cause’ in some domain of life.

Perhaps you’ve not been guilty of such an act of self-sabotage, but its possible you might still fall into the trap of speaking in ways that keep you living in a constricted circle of your potential, undermining not only your current experience of life but what is possible for you in the future.

You see, whether or not you know this, you live in language. Indeed, the language you use is not just descriptive, but also generative in so far as it doesn’t just describe your reality but it also shapes it.

Every time you open your mouth to speak (or even when you don’t, and just think a thought) you exercise that power. For better or worse.

Your words hold power.

Power to fuel confidence and ambition and power to make you feel anxious and inadequate.

Power to make a strong first impression and power to be quickly forgotten.

Power to create opportunities and power to shut them down.

As a professional speaker, people regularly tell me with great conviction that they could never do what I do. A few have said, ‘Public speaking scares me to death.’

Sure, public speaking ranks at the top of many people’s fears to the point that many would sooner be in the casket at a funeral than giving the eulogy. But while not everyone feels called to step onto a stage (virtual or real) on a regular basis, using language like ‘never’ and ‘scared to death’ can keep people who would benefit from building their presentation and public speaking skills from even trying.

Your subconscious interprets what it hears literally.

Your mind and body will follow the direction your words lead. Over time, you’ll generate what you are speaking into being.

Whether you’d like greater influence and respect in your workplace or more opportunities in your life, start by focusing on what you’re projecting into the world each time you open your mouth.

Here are seven ways to harness the power of language to do just that.

1. Speak into the future you want to create

Many people are completely unconscious of how often they use language that is qualifying, passive, pessimistic and imprecise. So begin by paying attention to the words you are speaking and replacing language that doesn’t make you feel braver in yourself or better about your future with language that is positive, specific and declarative. The kind that puts you firmly in command, shifts your energy and, in doing so, makes you someone others want to listen to.

The words you speak become the house you live in in so much as the world tends to mirror yourself back to you.

If you use positive language about yourself and your ability to meet challenges and achieve your goals, then that is what will show up for you externally. Likewise, if your words echo passivity or you’re making verbal declarations about yourself or your circumstances that stoke fear, breed pessimism or echo powerlessness, those words will shape your reality, too.

MORE FROM FORBESHow To Stop Feeling So Stressed

2. Don’t diminish yourself with ‘out of power’ language

Your language also impacts how others perceive and relate to you. If you often feel overlooked or undervalued, consider how your speech patterns are contributing to how others perceive and engage with you.

Using ‘out-of-power language’—like talking yourself down, making excuses or second-guessing your opinion before you’ve even shared it—can completely undermine your authority, presence and power.

Listen to someone you really admire and you’ll notice they use language that is positive, precise, action-focused and continually puts deposits of trust into their relationships. Many people (and loathe as I am to admit, we women are often the biggest culprits) have a habit of prefacing their opinions with an apology to minimize the chance of causing offence.

MORE FROM FORBESWhy Women Need To Stop Talking Themselves Down

You don’t have to apologize for having an opinion that may differ from others. You just need to express it respectfully without pushing it onto others .

3. Rephrase problems as opportunities

We all have problems—what differentiates the most successful people is how they approach them. Got a lousy boss? What a wonderful opportunity to develop your ability to manage up. Feeling over-loaded with life? Yet again, an opportunity to work on how you’re managing your inbox and become more masterful in your ability to delegate, prioritize and develop efficiency. When you change how you describe your problems, it opens up whole new avenues for dealing with them. Instead of “This is a nightmare,” say, “This is an interesting challenge,” and you will more easily approach it as such.

4. Limit labels and avoid absolutes that reinforce an undesired state

Labels create a subconscious boundary we don’t let ourselves cross. Labelling yourself as ‘lazy or ‘disorganized’ or ‘pathetic with money’ or ‘naff at networking’ keeps you from being anything but that and only reinforces an undesired state.

Just because you’ve been lazy and disorganized doesn’t mean you can’t choose to be different. Far better to say, ‘I’ve not been very proactive about this, but I will be,’ or ‘I’ve never prioritized getting organized, but I’ve now decided to start managing my time better.’ In the same way, avoid absolute language that removes the possibility of anything being different. Instead of ‘They are complete idiots,’ try, ‘We clearly see things differently, I wonder what they see that I don’t?’ Curiosity is a powerful forces for bridge building.

5. Don’t ‘try’, commit

I recently heard this voicemail message: “Thanks for calling. I’m busy right now but lease leave a message, and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can.”


Saying you’ll ‘try’ to do something provides an excuse for not doing it. So don’t try. Do. Likewise, instead of expressing yourself in terms of what you cannot do, reframe your language in ways that express forward commitment. For instance, rather than “I can’t, I don’t, I won’t, I want, I need,” say, “I can, I am, I will, I choose, I have, I love, I create, I enjoy.”

6. Be wary of ‘shoulding’ on yourself and try ‘could’ instead

Our shoulds are often more about what we think others expect or desire of us than what we truly want. They carry an implied judgment of better/worse that can hold us hostage to other people’s priorities and values. Replace it with the word “could” and insert an alternative option that aligns with your priorities and desires.

For instance, instead of ‘I should attend x-obligatory event,’ say ‘I could attend that event… or I could go (insert something else you’d love to do) instead.’

7. Stand tall and hold yourself as the most empowered person you know

Your physiology impacts your psychology. How you hold yourself physically—your posture, your facial expression, the space you take up—subtly but profoundly filters into the way your words land on others. So stand (or sit) tall, shoulders back, a quiet smile on your face and making gentle eye contact with those you’re speaking to. That will amplify your presence, and it will ensure that the words you speak will have optimal impact on who hears them.

Old linguistic habits of speech die hard. I get it. As someone who has a lifelong habit of self-deprecation, I’m still working on not deflecting compliments and graciously accepting praise (along with many other women I know).

We know from neuro-research that neurons that fire together, wire together. This means that however ingrained your speech habits may be, you are never too old to learn new ways of thinking, speaking or showing up in the world.

To help you get started, enlist the support of someone you trust to gently call you out when you speak in ways that don’t empower you. And then be kind to yourself when you slip up. (You will.) But don’t give up.

Because your words not only hold the power to shift how you feel about yourself right now, but to alter the trajectory of your future.

Don’t squander it. Harness it.

Speak powerfully.

Margie Warrell speaks on cultivating courage for leadership and life. Check out her latest bestselling book You’ve Got This! The Life Changing Power of Trusting Yourself


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