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Let’s focus on what you need to learn in order to build better relationships at home and at work. That’s the ultimate goal — the prize, we need to keep our eyes on. To do that, here’s what needs to happen:
· You need to understand a very few linguistic principles that you can apply to anything you say, so you can avoid provoking unnecessary conflict and hurt.
· You need to become more adept at slowing yourself down, particularly during disagreements or when upset, and start listening to yourself as you speak. Better yet, This needs to happen before you speak as your words bubble up in your head.
· You need to identify, and replace the 101 common imperfect phrases included in this book.
Just by reading through this book, and working on a different imperfect phrase each day, you can achieve all of these goals in order to change what you say to the people who are important to you.
You can, of course, use this book completely on your own. You’ll benefit from that. You can also use this book as a basis for improving an existing relationship, say with a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, by using this book together.
Before we provide some learning options for you, let’s talk a bit about the content that is to follow.
In This Book
You’ve probably already read the first chapter, which explains why the words you use are so important, and you’ve seen how some simple changes to phrases can turn an angry, hurtful discussion between Jack and Suzanne into something pleasant and useful.
In the next chapter you’ll find some basic guiding principles, largely drawn from psycholinguistics. Don’t be daunted by the big word. You don’t have to know ANY fancy terms to use language to build better relationships.
These principles are the bare minimum, to take control of your own words, and understand how seemingly innocent phrases you use can have a negative and/or unexpected response from other people. They ARE important to understand.
The remainder of the book walks you through the 101 imperfect phrases you need to either delete from your vocabulary, or improve. For each of the imperfect phrases we provide a short explanation of why it’s problematic, and we provide examples of how you can change them to say similar things but without the hidden sting in the message.
As you go through the imperfect phrases try to think of similar phrases that seem to have the same issues and problems, but that aren’t specifically mentioned. That will help you tune into language, and better appreciate how language works.
One more thing before we give you some more tips on how to use this book. While you CAN try to read this book from cover to cover, I can’t recommend that you do it that way. One reason is you’ll be bored out of your mind, because it’s not written in a way that supports that. It would be like reading the dictionary from cover to cover. Useful, but not riveting reading. It’s really up to you, but I you’ll find you learn more effectively by following the advice in the rest of this chapter.
Working On Your Own
There are a number of ways you can approach changing how you speak and what you say. Here are a few thoughts to guide you.
Work on only one or two phrases at a time. That is, let’s say you want to start at the beginning.
1. Look at the first imperfect phrase.
2. Decide if you have ever said the imperfect phrase, and think about the situation in which you said it.
3. Think about what happened Did the other person react badly, or did it work out OK?
4. Read the explanation, so you understand WHY the use of that particular phrase often results in damaged relationships.
5. Then, look at the “Make It Better” section for examples of how the phrasing could be changed.
6. Imagine yourself back in the situation in which you used the phrase, and imagine saying the better phrases instead. Try to see visualize the interaction. You can even say the better phrases out loud if you like.
There’s a reason I ask you to do it this way. In order to break bad language habits, and start new ones, so you don’t make errors even when you are upset, you need to practice. Fortunately, you do NOT need to practice in real life. At least not yet. Rehearsing in your head is a powerful method for change, and that’s what we want to use here. The more vividly you imagine the situation(s) and using the improved phrases, the better you will remember them.
In A Hurry, Want To Do The “Short Course”?
Since 101 phrases is a lot to go through, you may want to fast track yourself. There are two ways to do that.
Study the Ten Worst Imperfect Phrases First
Some of the imperfect phrases listed will apply to you — that is, they will be phrases you have used before or think you might use in the future. Some may not apply to you, because you already know they are not good things to say.
To save you some time, we’ve made a list of the ten worst or most common imperfect phrases. You can start with them, following the procedure we outlined on the previous page. Then, if you have the time and motivation, you can go back to the other ones in the book.
The worst phrases have a box that looks like this:
It’s located towards the top at the left or right of the page.)
Even easier is to use the Table of Contents. Each of the worst phrases has a little symbol: (M) beside it.
Use The Triage Method
Another way to speed things up is to go through the table of contents and highlight the phrases you can remember using. Work on those first.
Important Note: It really is best if you work through ALL the phrases. While some even overlap, you’ll find that doing them all, and enduring some of the repetition will help you develop better phrasing habits and better understand how the language you use makes a difference.
Working With Someone Else
If you are in a relationship that could benefit from better communication (and all relationships can), consider using this book as a basis for working TOGETHER to make things better. Two people reading, interacting, and learning about each other is far better than one person reading this book on his or her own.
So, you bought this book. You’d really like to work with your partner on changing how each of you communicates, How do you go about it? How do you even broach the subject in the first place without raising hackles?
Let’s start there. Here are some important ideas to guide your approach to the other person.
· Always focus on WE, and not YOU. Nobody wants to “work together” to make something better, when it’s clear the motivation is to get THEM to change. The process should always be about the two of you.
· Pick a time to broach the subject when both of you are relaxed, and rested. Do NOT bring up this book in the middle of an argument or disagreement. It will just make things worse.
· Never use this book to bludgeon another person, or “prove” the other person is a poor communicator. It’s not about that.
· Don’t approach with an ultimatum. You know the kind of thing….if you don’t read this book, I’m going to leave you. Even if you force the other person to read the book, or discuss it with you, you can’t force someone to change unless they want to, and force tends to push people to resist changing.
· Don’t hand this book to someone and ask them to read it. Be part of the process.
· Take responsibility for your errors and communication gaffes. Prove to the other person that you are willing to change how you communicate, and you are eager to take into account the other person’s needs and wants.
And What About At Work?
The use of imperfect phrases, and the unfortunate upheaval they cause isn’t limited to personal relationships. In the workplace, even a single person who is the verbal “bull in a china shop” can cause dissatisfaction and anger among co-workers, and make managing “the bull” difficult.
If you want to improve a relationship with a work colleague, you can use the exact same techniques and “invitations” you would use with those with whom you have a closer personal relationship.
If you are a manager, wanting to reduce workplace conflict, particularly with one specific individual, this book can be a great tool. And, if you haven’t thought of it yet, this is also an excellent resource for work teams that may be having communication difficulties as a result of overuse of imperfect phrases.
Examples of Invitations
Let’s get more specific about what you can say — how you can phrase things to increase the likelihood the other person will FEEL invited, and see the overture as something positive for both of you.
· Jenn, we’ve been together a while, and sometimes I sense I upset you with some of the words I use. Do you want to work together to see if we can improve things?
· John, I picked up this book to help me talk to you so I don’t get on your nerves, but I need your help. Got a few minutes?
· Fred, we seem to be arguing a lot about nothing, so I’m wondering if you’d like to work through this book with me, so we won’t argue for no reason.
· I’ve been reading this book on things couples shouldn’t say to each other, and I’m finding both of us are in the book. Want to take a look?
In the examples, you can see the speaker starts by demonstrating a willingness to change, and a desire to be a better relationship partner. That should be your starting point.
You can also work with your child using this book. Once he or she hits the age of ten or so, you can offer to sit down and work together. Here are some sample invitations:
With Linda (15 years old):
· Linda, you and I seem to say things that start arguments, so I’m wondering if you’d be willing to sit down with me and spend a few minutes looking at a book that might help. What do you think?
· Linda, you’ve been mentioning you are having a lot of arguments with your best friend, Nancy. I picked up a book that I find useful, because it helps reduce the nasty arguments we can all have. Want to take a look?
With Joey (ten years old)
· Joey, some things aren’t good to say to people, because it makes them upset, so I’d like to help you know what to say, and maybe what not to say. We can even make a game of it.
If you are a manager charged with reducing conflict that is affecting productivity, you have more “authority”, so you can be more directive when inviting people to work with you to improve things. Just remember that you can’t force someone to learn, even if you can push them to “participate”. Here are some examples you might use with a difficult employee:
· George, I’ve been noticing you seem to have gotten into some arguments with other office staff, and I think we need to sit down to see if there are ways we can eliminate them. I have some ideas, so let’s set a time.
· Jan, I don’t know how you are feeling about how you are getting along with co-workers. If you are feeling you are getting into a lot of disagreements, I might have some ways to help. What do you think?
· I’ve noticed that in team meetings, we seem to spend a lot of time arguing, sometimes about HOW we communicate, and I’d like to address that. At each meeting, we’ll be looking at some phrases that I’d like to see ALL of us stop using.
Now that we’ve covered inviting people to work with you to improve communication, we’ll turn to the ways you can use the book content.
Possible Activities For Learning
· Each party goes through the book independently and chooses ten phrases they feel are used in the relationship, but are causing problems. Then agree to stop using them.
· Set aside ten minutes once or twice a week to discuss a different imperfect phrase. Discuss whether the phrase bothers each person, and whether both parties agree it should be “banned”.
· Go through the index together, and add any phrases that bother one or the other person that are NOT included in the book. Since people tend to differ on what they find problematic, this is a great way to learn about each other. Take action when necessary.
· On alternate days, each person gets to pick ONE phrase the other person has used in the past. That person explains how the phrase affects him or her, and parties agree not to use it.
· After both parties have gone through the book, agree that if either one uses one of the imperfect phrases, the other has the right to interrupt and politely point out the imperfect phrase usage, and what might be better to say.
For Teams, Groups, Families
One outcome to shoot for is to come to agreement on the “way we speak to each other around here”, which is a way at coming at the team, group, or family “culture”. It’s a process of establishing norms for the group.
· In team meetings, pick one phrase that has been used in the group in the past, discuss how others might have felt hearing it, and resolve to replace the imperfect phrase with better ways of saying things.
· Have a family meeting, and alternate family members picking an imperfect phrase that causes the person upset.
· It takes a commitment to change language habits you have been using all your life. It’s not hard, per se, but you have to work at it. While reading this book is a great first step, you need to start thinking about it, then living it.
· You can’t improve things by coercing or forcing. When working with others, you need to “sell” working together to improve communication by focusing on the benefits everyone will receive.
· You may find other ways to use this book not listed here. Good stuff. Use your imagination, and when working with other people, get them to buy in to whatever process you use. That means discussing possibilities, not imposing them.