3 Word Choices You Should Consider When Communicating With Others In The Workplace

29 January 2019 by Kendelle Tekstar
blog author

Blog written by Kendelle Tekstar, Senior Product Manager of Acre Frameworks

From my time studying psychology, I have always been fascinated by how simple word choices can completely change the tone, impact, and outcome of a conversation. I’d like to explore a few that could improve the effectiveness of your communication at work… Let’s go!

1. “Make/feel statements”

When people talk about their impressions of a psychologist, I often hear them paint the picture of someone who is going to ask them to lie down on a couch like a Freudian cliché and ask them: “So how does that make you feel?” During my academic and clinical career in psychology, “make/feel” statements were actually something I eliminated from my vocabulary.

Someone or something can certainly lead you to experience a certain emotional response, but undoubtedly can’t make you (unless they oddly instructed you: “Feel angry/sad/guilty, etc. now!”). You are giving up your self-efficacy if you communicate with “make/feel” and it can leave you feeling helpless to overcome the issue(s) at hand! I have personally found it important for me to be able to both label and own my emotions to manage difficult situations, so I’d encourage you to keep an eye on whether you are taking appropriate ownership for yours.

2. Giving feedback to others where…

a. The subject of the sentence is “You”, followed by
b. Global (applies to everything about the person), stable (his or her personality/behaviour is static – indicated by words like “always/never”), internal (labelling a person/a behaviour is part of who the person is at their core) assertions.

“You are so rude! You never consider how I feel and are such an inconsiderate person. You make me feel so terrible all the time and you should be ashamed of yourself!”

Ah, what a great segue after the introduction of “make/feel” statements… Let’s re-arrange this response with a much more effective method of communication, an “‘I’ statement”:

I feel _____
when you _____
because _____.
I would like _____.

“I feel really bad when you harshly dismiss my opinions, especially openly in front of our coworkers in important meetings because I feel embarrassed and it damages my credibility. I would like you to fully hear out my ideas and offer constructive criticism when needed, the latter ideally in a 1-to-1 setting”.

My thoughts: This person has now taken ownership for his feelings, identified the specific actions his peer made that led him to feel that way, and explained why. Very importantly, he asked for what he needs from that person moving forward to engage more effectively. Check out this video from The Gottman Institute on negative communication styles and how “‘I’ statements” are the anecdote to unhelpful criticism;

c. Can you _____?

When I trained as a suicide and crisis counsellor, we were taught a crisis intervention model that involved creating a plan of action for individuals who called the hotline to manage the challenges they were facing and look after themselves. One of the most important learnings I put into practice every day was asking people what they were willing to do about the presenting issue instead of what they could do about it – the difference is massive between the action(s) a person could take versus what they are realistically going to do!

An example: A coworker has just gone through a bad break up with his significant other of many years and the split was sudden and not mutual at all – he is heartbroken. You grab lunch with him to talk it through and he comments he has found the chat really helpful. You get the impression he would benefit from some continual support so you want to suggest he find an appropriate outlet to keep talking.

Scenario A:

You suggest: “Since our chat has been helpful to you now perhaps you could see a counselling psychologist for ongoing support?” He responds: “I would never go sit and get all emotional with some doctor. I couldn’t stand it if I started to cry in front of a stranger and they’d probably try to tell me I’m depressed… I’m not, I’m fine! I just need someone to talk to, that’s all”.

My thoughts: You’ve learnt your coworker is not comfortable going to see a counselling psychologist, but have not succeeded in identifying a reasonable outlet for support and possibly gotten them on the defence.

Scenario B:

Instead you suggest: “I am glad our chat has been helpful and want to make sure you continue to look after yourself during this difficult time. What are you willing and able to do to get the support you need moving forward?”

He responds: “I haven’t spoken to her much lately, but my sister always has the right thing to say when it comes to this stuff… Maybe I’ll reach out to her”.

My thoughts: You have led your coworker to identify someone he trusts whom he is willing to reach out to for support. You could certainly plant the seed about seeing a counselling psychologist if you feel it would be beneficial by saying something like: “I really want to make sure you get the support you need so it might also be worthwhile to consider speaking to a counselling psychologist – I have a couple of resources I can email through so you know what’s available out there”… Light touch, and you are giving him privacy to explore this option.

Hopefully this has been some helpful food for thought, if you have any questions reach out to Kendelle.Tekstar@acre.com.