Free Chapter 1 — You ARE The Words You Use - From Imperfect Phrases For Relationships
The following is the first chapter from ImPerfect Phrases For Relationships: 101 COMMON Things You Should Never Say To Someone Important To You... And What To Say Instead By Robert Bacal. It's a straight forward guide to help you eliminate the conversation "firestarters" and to replace them with more constructive and more cooperative ways of communicating.
You ARE The Words You Use
If you are interested in better relationships, at home and at work, you’ve no doubt come across a lot of the “advice” offered on how to create the relationships you want. After all it’s important for your personal life, and career to forge positive, peaceful and constructive relationships.
Unfortunately, much of the advice is vague. You’re told: Show the other person respect. Or Listen carefully. Or, stay calm. It’s impossible to disagree with vague advice, because...well, it’s so vague, and so superficially sensible that no sane person would object. It’s all pretty useless and the worst part is you don’t realize it’s all pretty useless.
The problem is that vague advice focuses on ideas or concepts — respect, caring, politeness, as if they mean the same thing to everyone. They don’t. They are also removed from what really counts, your visible behavior. You can only be known by what people can see, hear, touch...well you get the idea. So, you can’t really have good relationships by “respecting” someone unless someone comes along to help you figure out what that could mean and HOW you can show respect to your partner. Or how you can show you care for the people around you.
Vague suggestions tend to mislead. If you have read other advice on how you can improve your relationships, was it specific enough for you to change your behavior to something better? If not it’s unlikely you received very little benefit. You need to know EXACTLY what to avoid saying, and just as important, you need to know what to say instead. And that’s the point of this book.
Think about the concrete things that make or break relationships. Clearly, what you DO, the actions you take are important. Whether you do what you say you will do. Whether the non-verbals you use send a message of caring and commitment, or the opposite.
The WORDS that you use, phrases is the term we use, are so important in building and maintaining relationships, because quite simply, we do so much talking. Talking is the way we learn about each other, make commitments, and the main way we are known by other people. It makes no difference what’s inside of us — positive feelings, let’s say, if we bumble along, saying things the wrong way.
And all of us say things the wrong way, at least some of the time, because our language habits are learned when we are too young to appreciate how much the words and phrases count. We all have bad language habits, and those habits cause us to blurt out things in ways that damage our relationships, at home and at work. The more upset we are, the more emotional, the more likely we’ll fall back on the more child-like habits we have.
For example, have you ever heard two adults arguing about “who started an argument”? Or overheard someone say to another: “Chill out, you take things too seriously”. Have YOU ever said these things? Chances are you have, and chances are you’ve used a number of words and phrases that make sense at the time, at least until come out of your mouth. Then, you get the negative reaction you hadn’t thought you would get. OOPS!
Fortunately, relationships survive occasional mistakes. If that wasn’t the case, we’d never procreate and the species would have died out long ago. Those mistakes, though, make relationships much rockier and challenging, as they create unnecessary friction and conflict that comes about ONLY because of the words we use. Conflicts and disagreements aren’t always bad. We can learn from them. The exception is when the discussions become focused on WHAT was said, and HOW it was said rather than the real life issue.
Jack and Suzanne have been a couple for ten years or so. They have their disagreements and clashes, and in the past they’ve managed to get through them. Now, however, they are facing some financial difficulties, and Jack was laid off about six months ago. The bank balance is dropping, and they’re both scared. Here’s a conversation between the two of them.
Suzanne: Jack, did you forget to transfer money into our checking account? I heard from the bank that our the check for the electricity bill bounced.
Jack: I didn’t forget. I did it like I always do it, every month. You must have spent the money somewhere else.
Suzanne: I did not. How can you say that? I’ve been responsible about money, like, forever.
Jack: Well, it’s not my fault. You don’t appreciate how hard it is for me, not having a job.
Suzanne: I DO appreciate it, but we have to pay the bills. When are you going to start looking for a job?
Jack: What the hell do you think I’ve been doing every day for the last four months…
Suzanne: Well, how would I know. You hardly ever talk to me about your day anymore.
Jack: You never ask.
It’s not going well for the couple, is it? This kind of conversation happens all the time, and it points out the power of words. There are no direct, intentional insults. No swearing and name calling. Jack and Suzanne care deeply about each other, yet this has become a common way for them to interact. If they don’t alter what they say to each other, they will erode the trust and commitment that’s gotten them through tough times before, and that WILL threaten the relationship.
This conversation suffers from imperfect phrases, as both Suzanne and Jack make poor choices in the words they use. You can see what happens. At first, the issue is that a check has bounced, and Suzanne asks Jack whether he transferred the money to the correct account. Her choice of words isn’t very good. Jack reacts with more imperfect phrases, and the original issue, a simple one, in fact, gets completely lost. Within two exchanges, the couple is arguing because of the imperfect phrases used. Not only are they unlikely to solve the issue of the bounced check, they are creating a slew of negative emotions that are both unpleasant and damaging to the long term health of the relationship.
An Example of “Better”
We could go through the little dialogue and analyse the heck out of it, but in keeping with the practical orientation of this book, let’s start at the other end. Let’s see how small changes in the words Jack and Suzanne used could change this exchange completely.
Suzanne: Jack, a funny thing happened today. I was told that our check to the electric company bounced. I know we have enough money to cover it, and I’m at a loss as to what happened. Do you have any ideas?
Jack: No. I transferred the money from our savings into our checking account like I always do.
Suzanne: Was that on the 31st, like usual?
Suzanne: Weird. Well, we should probably try to track this down, since we’ll have to pay the NSF fee to the bank.
Jack: OK. Hey, I know. Let’s use our online banking to check the transactions and bank balances.
That’s what they do. Here’s the conversation, resumed in front of their computer.
Jack: Hmm...I don’t see any record here of the transfer to the checking account, and I’m sure I did the transfer.
Suzanne: Do you think something happened at the bank and the transfer didn’t go through?
Jack: Could be. I’ll have to contact the bank and ask.
Suzanne: Good. Can you recall if you checked the bank balances after the transfer?
Jack: Well, I don’t remember, but I know I was in a hurry.
Suzanne: Ah. I have an idea on how we can prevent this from happening. How about if we print out the transaction and balances each time we use online banking. Then we can make sure everything is working properly.
Jack: Great idea. Let’s do that from now on, and then we’ll always know what each of us is doing with the banking.
Quite a bit different, isn’t it. The conversation stays on topic, and results in a practical solution to prevent the problem from occurring again. What changed?
We could assume that their attitudes differed in the two examples, or they “respected” each other more in the second example, and perhaps that’s true. We don’t know, because attitudes and respect are INSIDE each person, invisible except for what we can see and hear. Or, we could look at the words they used and compare in the first and second example.
In the first example, almost every part of the exchange is littered with imperfect phrases, choices of wording that, while not “in your face” confrontational, put the other person in a defensive position. The result is that as feelings are hurt, things get worse, as each person “triggers” the other. The point is quickly lost.
In the second example, both Suzanne and Jack choose different words and phrases. For example, to start the conversation, Suzanne, removes the hint of blame embedded in “Jack, did you forget to transfer money into our checking account? “ and comes at it differently, much more in the spirit of inquiry and working together. Jack, not feeling under attack, responds in the same spirit, and what could have turned bad, now ends up as a simple, direct and constructive discussion.
All that changed was the words. Certainly, things like body language, and tone of voice are important, no amount of positive body language and “loving tone” would have made a difference in the first example. You can’t “fix” imperfect phrases in any other way than to find better ways to say similar things.
Not Just Important In Personal Relationships
At first glance, you’d think that the kinds of difficulties Suzanne and Jack encounter in the first example apply only to close personal relationships, within families, between couples, with children. You’d be wrong.
The same issue, the power of our words, applies to our jobs, careers and friends. Job and career success has a lot of components, but you’ll tend to find that those who move upwards along a career path tend to get along well with those around them. It makes sense. Bosses and other work decision-makers aren’t inclined to promote people who make their lives miserable, or who communicate so badly, they create conflicts in the workplace, when those conflicts are unnecessary.
In fact, you have probably run in to people at work who are like Pigpen in the Charlie Brown comics. Everywhere they go, a cloud of conflict follows. This happens, even with highly competent people, because they:
· are unaware of how their words and phrases are interpreted by those around them
· they haven’t developed the skills to combat the tendency we all have to use more child-like ways to express themselves particularly when we are emotionally invested in the conversation.
Sure, some may simply be “bad people”, and some may be plain angry all the time, or have other personality issues, but all those things manifest themselves in the words and phrases they use. The saddest situations occur when a person, well intentioned perhaps, and even above average in terms of job related skills, ends up losing a job, or hitting a career wall, because of the words he or she uses.
Whether it’s asking the boss for a raise, or working in a team, or...well, almost anything in the workplace, if you choose the wrong words, you might well be harming your career, and in fact, your income.
A Special Note About Children — YOUR Children
Raising children is a challenge, and for many, it’s the most important part of their lives. For that reason, it’s worth looking at the words you use with your children, and your role in teaching them to communicate effectively, and “set them up” for future success in THEIR families, and in their careers.
You probably know what follows, but it’s still good to review.
Your children learn about the world in a number of ways, but by far, the most important is that they see everything you do and SAY. They mimic you even before they have any clue as to the meaning of the words they copy. A little scary, when you come to think about it; how much influence you have whether you like it or not. In short, the words you use are exceedingly powerful.
Couple that with parental tendencies to get frustrated with their children, and it becomes particularly important to alter the imperfect phrases you use with your children, and replace them with better phrasings that TEACH your children how people can interact in constructive ways.
That’s one of the differences between interacting with adults in your life, and interacting with your children. In most adult situations, your goal isn’t to teach. Your goal is to build and maintain positive relationships sustainable over time, and reduce unnecessary disagreements and conflict.
Of course, you want that with your kids, too. With children though, there’s the added responsibility of teaching them what’s good to say, and what’s not good to say, and they will learn those things FROM you, by watching and listening.
There’s also an added challenge. Kids aren’t just miniature adults. They process information differently, and depending on age, they have some built in limits for what they can understand.
There will be times when your frustration, and the press of every day activities will “push” you to use imperfect phrases with your children that send the wrong messages, or imply things you don’t mean to say. You will be put in situations where you will blurt out things in ways you might later regret.
You’re human, and thankfully, children are pretty resilient. Errors are not likely to cause problems unless you fall into long-term, consistent patterns involving the use of imperfect phrases.
Be particularly alert to the power of your words and phrasings. There may be times when, for example, you get so tired of nagging your kids to go to bed that you’ll say something like: “Just because I said so”. Apart from a comment on the “going to bed issue”, what else does it teach the child? Those with the power don’t, or shouldn’t, offer explanations? You might not want to teach your child that might makes right.
The point here is that by becoming more aware of the impact of your choices in words, you can still get things done with your children, while at the same time, teaching them how to interact in civil, cooperative ways. And, lord knows, we need more people who value that in our society.
- · The words and phrases you use COUNT, and in fact have incredible power to build or destroy relationships.
- · We all are prone to errors in phrasing what we say. Every one of us. Unless we pay attention to our words, and change imperfect ones into better phrases, we WILL pay a price in our marriages and intimate relationships. Stunted career development, and damaged relationships with our children, and friends can also result.
- · To prevent the erosion of our relationships resulting from imperfect phrasing, we need to know what to STOP saying, and what to say instead.
- In the next chapter, we explain how you can use this book, either on your own, or with others, to stop the pain of unnecessary argument and hurt feelings.