By Ozlem, Oct 31 2014 02:18PM
The Greek philosopher Epictetus once said: “First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak…”
In the last few years, I've been giving greater attention to my words and the words of others as I'm quite fascinated by the subconscious mind and the effect of language on it. And it seems like we've gotten into the habit of over-using some phrases. We use them so automatically, we often don't fully acknowledge what we really are saying. In fact, at times we end up being more on the offensive side than being helpful.
More importantly, our greater realisation of the value of emotionally intelligent communication encourages us to consider the impact of our words as well as our intentions before we speak. And I'm finding more and more that asking explorative, open ended questions is better in communication to understand others and ourselves than just offering automated comments...
Here are a few of these daily phrases that need to be urgently replaced by more thoughtful ones. I’m pretty sure you can add your own ones to the list.
1. You are so lucky.
A well- meaning phrase a lot of us use to remind people to appreciate the things they have in their lives. But does it really have the impact of 'realisation' for the person hearing this phrase? For me, often than not telling someone they are lucky undermines their hard work and efforts. Saying what they have is sheerly down to luck, assumes they didn’t have to do anything for it. Years dedicated to hard work, education and endless, persistent efforts, is not luck. And even in cases where people are born into ‘lucky’ circumstances many of them work hard and make constant efforts not to ruin it all- this once again has nothing to do with luck and evereything to do with planned, persistent, motivated action.
How about being a bit more emotionally intelligent and offering appreciation to people instead: "You have such a great life/ family/ marriage/ job. I very much admire your success-and you've worked really hard for it. I'd like to be/ do/ have that too. What are some of the tips you can give me?"
2. I know exactly how you feel…
Well... Really? Instead of creating the effect of 'support' this phrase often minimises what the other person is feeling because other people seem to know 'exactly' how a situation feels. Can we ever know 'exactly' how somebody feels? No. Because we are not them! We do not have strictly the same circumstances, character, background or experiences. We can empathise. We can remember the times we might have had the same difficulty. At most we can appreciate their situations and try to understand. But, there is no way we can 'exactly' know how a challenge may feel to somebody else, as we are all different.
How about using our words with care and offering them a supporting ear: " I can only try to imagine how you might be feeling. Tell me more..."
3. It’s not a big deal.
For the person using this phrase, it might not be. But is it our place to judge what a big or small deal an event or a situation may be to someone else - no matter how close they are to us? As an example, I find it particularly unhelpful when children and young people are told something they may be experiencing shouldn't be 'a big deal'... The fact is: many things are a big deal for children and young people and we do not want to unintentionally undermine the impact of a situation or a person on them. So, how about replacing this phrase with: " Tell me how you feel about this a bit more, so together we can brainstorm and find a solution..."
4. You are/ this is so nice.
Again an incredibly well- meaning phrase but so over used, it has totally lost it's meaning both for children and adults alike. In fact psychologists suggest that just saying something or someone is nice seriously diminishes the quality of the thing or the importance of the person.
They add that we must clearly explain the reasons why we think someone is nice so our appreciation does not lose it's meaning.
" The way you communicated your feelings to your brother was impressive. You were thoughtful yet assertive. I really appreciate this quality in you. That was so nice!" This way, we are pointing out the precise reason why someone's behaviour deserves recognition and as a result they feel truly valued.
5. Chill out!
When someone is angry or upset, the last thing they want to hear is a patronising: Chill out!
Once again this phrase diminishes the person's feelings completely -yet we think by telling someone to chill out we will prevent the situation from getting worse and psychologists claim the opposite.
Instead, getting the person to look into their emotion and to understand why they're feeling what they're feeling is a more effective way to calm them down, without undermining their emotional state.
"What are you exactly feeling? What is causing you to feel this way? Tell me more " are the types of questions we can ask and things we can say instead.
Hope you find this piece useful and thought provoking.
Until next time, wishing you fun and growth!