4 Tiny But Powerful English Words

Updated: 29/12/2021

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Words are powerful


You have probably heard it before that speech makes up only a small part of overall communication, approximately 7% according to some studies. So why is it so important then, if it's only a small amount compared to body language and auditory communication? Most likely because we actually spend the majority of our time communicating in this way.

What you say can have profound consequences on the people you engage with hence the reason people claim that words are powerful. In this short article, I'll share four small but influential words you should keep in mind when using them.

Can’t

“I can’t…” is very often the natural reaction when someone feels that something is not possible for them to do. It is a powerful word because of its impact on the mind. When used, the mind automatically shuts down, stops and tries to divert its attention somewhere else.

Substitution - a better phrase to use is, “How can I?" allowing the space for possibility to play in, keeping the mind working.

But

Where does your attention go when you read the following phrase? 
“You speak English really fluently but your pronunciation needs improving.”  
If you're like most people it falls on “improving your pronunciation”. When we use the word “but”, all the information that precedes it gets ignored because our mind tends to focus on what it considers a danger or threat, and therefore what comes after or essentially, the problem (threat), that we need to solve. 

Substitution - an alternative would be “And”. This serves as an addition or continuation of a valid idea and allows the mind to focus on the whole idea instead of a part of it. Use “And”, when giving feedback and constructive criticism.

Verbal communication is only 7% of how we communicate with people

Don’t

What happens when somebody says, “Don't press that button!” Your immediate reaction is likely to do the exact opposite! Why? We are incapable of not thinking about something that is brought to our attention and hence, if you're instructed not to do something, your attention immediately goes towards doing it and all the consequences of that action. 

Substitution - Instead of using, "don't", which is a negative term, adapt positive or affirmative language instead. 
A great example is with young children. Instead of, “Don’t speak with your mouth full” could be, “Finish what you are eating…” and “Don’t shout” could be replaced with, “Speak quietly”. 
Using positive language helps diffuse communication that could be interpreted as challenging or authoritarian. 

Try

What do you think when somebody says this to you, “I’ll try to be there on Saturday night.” Do you believe they are going to come or not? 
“Try” is a word that is associated with a lack of (complete) commitment, it doesn't guarantee the outcome. When you are certain or very confident about a specific result you would use more assured language such as, “I’ll be there….Consider it done….Absolutely….Without question….”
The positive side to “try” however, is it can be used strategically to avoid disappointment when saying no to someone directly. You are warning them there is a chance you won’t be able to deliver on what’s being required of you.


Communication is an incredibly powerful tool that we all possess and adopt in different ways and it can often impact us subconsciously, without us even realising.
We have analysed four small yet highly influential words. Your task is now to pay attention when people are speaking to you and notice when they apply these, and similar terms, and how you react to them.


Steve

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