Has this ever happened to you?
For better or worse—consciously or not—you’ve gotten in your head about the smallest, “stupidest” things, many of which involve certain words or wording.
Misinterpreting your value in the simplest conversations. “What am I even talking about?”
Second-guessing yourself. “Why did I say that?”
Grappling with internal criticisms. “You are so dumb!”
And so on.
It can’t be. Because language is slippery. And we all know that words have meaning, but the way we use words has power.
If we want to use this power for good, we must be considerate about the words we choose to use—especially in a professional setting.
So even if you’re not hypersensitive to the way you (or others) perceive certain statements—but you’re interested in having the nicest, friendliest conversations with people—please consider these verbal cues, comparisons, and recommendations.
“Remind me…” vs. “Help me remember…”
Oh no. You’ve forgotten that due date. You can’t remember where that file is. How do you ask for the answer? Instead of telling people to “remind you” of something, consider asking them to “help you remember” instead.
Here’s why saying “Remind me of X Y or Z” may have a subtly negative effect.
- It reinforces the notion that you have forgotten something, which can be embarrassing for you or off-putting to others (especially at work).
- It gives an unwanted task to your audience; you are passing off your responsibility to them. It seems to say, “I can’t be bothered to know this, so now you figure it out.”
- It is a lopsided transaction. It sounds like a direct order, doesn’t it? It’s the sort of statement that a power-hungry tech bro might say to “assert dominance” over a subordinate at his startup.
Instead, saying something like, “Help me remember…” could create a more positive experience for you and your audience. Here’s why.
1. Saying “help” indicates your vulnerability—which is still an admission of your forgetfulness—but with a little sympathy and empathy attached.
Most people are conditioned to want to help their friends or co-workers. Why? Because helping others feels good. The shared action of requesting and offering help creates a bond between you and your audience.
Without attempting to sound dramatic, asking for help also gives others an opportunity to assume the role of hero. Who doesn’t want to be a hero?
2. The word “remember” is so much more pleasant than “remind” isn’t it? The word “remember” is almost always associated with feelings or memories of fun, excitement, or desire.
- “Remember that time we scored free concert tickets?!”
- “OMG do you remember when Dad was so mad he popped his pants?”
- “Ahhh I wish I could remember that girl’s phone number!”
There are, of course, drawbacks to this theory. “Remember to wash your hands” or “Remember to do your homework” are far less fun, exciting, or desirable usages of the word.
But in the context of a workplace conversation, being asked to help someone is a more pleasant experience than being told to complete a task on the spot. In short, mindfulness matters.
“I don’t like this” vs. “This might not work because…”
This theory is probably more practical because it deals with giving and taking constructive criticism, which often make for difficult conversations.
Remember how in art class in high school, when you were supposed to be critiquing each other’s work, most of your classmates would say something like, “Oh, that’s so good,” or, “Yeah, I really like it,” and your art teacher would lose their damn mind? That’s because this feedback isn’t helpful—to anyone—at all. Mostly because it is purely subjective and offers little to no follow-up conversation.
So in marketing, or in any workplace, really, it would be more helpful to say something like:
“I think this works because…” or “This might not work because…”
“I think this image works because the client’s brand colors are orange, and the orange you’ve used here is spot on.”
“This blog doesn’t work because its purpose was to inform people, and instead you’ve blathered on about your own self-imposed inadequacies. Everyone who has read it is now dumber. May God have mercy on your soul.”
The “work”-”don’t work” statements work because they cite concrete evidence and create an opportunity for reasonable discourse, whereas the “like”-“don’t like” statements, well, don’t.
“Obviously” vs. “of course”
Something that is obvious to you might not be obvious to others. It’s a presumptuous word, and it’s very rarely helpful. And when people say “obviously,” it’s usually with a tinge of negativity, isn’t it? Sarcasm? Maybe even a little bit of anger? There’s too often a negative association with “obviously.”
“Did you submit that proposal?”
“No, I obviously wasn’t going to submit it without telling you first.”
“Alright, okay, take it easy!”
If the purpose of the word or sentiment is to check for understanding—or to affirm that everyone is on the same page with something—consider saying “of course” instead.
“We should, of course, check with Marge before sending this proposal.”
“Obviously” is just a super condescending word that can have a negative effect on people and the conversations they have. In my opinion, of course.
What’s the point?
Words matter, but how you use words are more important. And not just in the workplace, either. Choosing the right words is essential to helping you find your voice—in websites, print collateral, script-writing, landing pages, and so much more.
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