Language is the most powerful drug known to mankind, as we believe what we say about ourselves and others.
What we say about ourselves has a major impact on our self belief and self esteem. If we think and talk about ourselves using positive and proactive language it will naturally build our confidence and ultimately our ability to perform. How many times do you hear people saying ‘I could never do that’ or ‘I will never be able to do this’ ? These universal absolute statements are not helpful and can easily become self fulfilling prophecies. When you were learning to walk as a toddler, you never said these words or had these thoughts. In reality, in most situations you just haven’t got it yet and often with a different attitude it will eventually come. Remember as Captain Jack Sparrow famously said in the Pirates of the Caribbean, ’the problem is not the problem, the problem is your attitude to the problem’.
There are several words in the English language that do not help us, one being ‘failure’. This is a word that strikes fear into many people and stops them even trying new things or ways of working. In some cases, it can drive action but in a very draining and unsustainable fashion. The word ‘failure’ needs to be banned from our language as it inhibits a lot of action, as people perceive it is safer to do nothing and not even try. It has a massive impact on self esteem and morale as well. Next time you hear it being used, challenge the expression and belief that goes along with it. In 99% of failure stories, it is really just perceived failure which in reality means you didn’t achieve 100% of your target, goal or objective. However, the fact that you gave it a go, you tried your best, you tried things others have not even dared to do then this is not failure. Okay you didn’t achieve your goal but you tried, you will have learnt from it and you would do a few things differently next time. The only real failure is not to try in the first place. Remember you miss 100% of all the shots you never take.
We can often misuse language and say things that are not particularly helpful. If you say to someone don’t drop the ball as you throw it to them you are putting a negative thought or idea in their mind that was probably not there in the first place or if it was you are just reinforcing it. I call this the ‘purple elephant’ moment; if you say to someone purple elephant then everyone has a picture of a purple elephant in their mind that wasn’t there before. As managers we can sometimes be caught saying, ‘don’t mess up the meeting’, ‘we can’t lose the client’ or ‘if we don’t get this contract we are stuffed’. All these comments never help, all they do is put the idea of not achieving something in the employee’s head and that just increases the chance of it not going well. If you don’t want someone to drop the ball’, tell them specifically how to catch it e.g stretch your hands to meet the ball early. i.e. communicate something that they can see and do to make the meeting a success, keep the client or win the contract.
After one of my recent workshops, I asked a participant what their feedback was. He said ‘yes Mark that was quite good’. So I asked what would need to be different for it to be good? The answer was, ‘It was good!’ Our culture of being reserved, ‘not getting too big for our boots’ and everything just being all right’ doesn’t help. We need to bear in mind that the reverse is also true and too much productive language can turn a positive into a negative. However, I think we could be more positive and productive with ourselves and our teams especially if you want to see a repeat performance in the future. Language both what we say and think should be focused on the present, be powerful, proactive, emotive and inspirational and tailored to our specific situation and/or scenario we are dealing with. Expressions like ‘I should’, ‘hopefully’ and ‘I will consider giving it a go’ all need to be challenged, as our beliefs directly impact the actions we take and the results we achieve. If we want to achieve more in life, we need to believe more and use language that has a positive impact on these beliefs.
As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place’.