Over 2,500 years ago, philosopher and poet Lao Tzu taught that our words become actions, which eventually become our destiny.
In first century Greece, historian and essayist Plutarch declared that a speaker’s state of mind, character, and disposition are exposed through their words. And Napoleon Hill, the twentieth century father of personal success literature, asserts that words plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.
“Across the planet, sages insist that words are potent and should be chosen and spoken with care, for they are ‘the most powerful drug used by mankind,’ as Rudyard Kipling warns,” says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.” “If they’re right, it stands to reason that what we say to ourselves and others plays a critical role in helping us achieve success.”
Regardless of how you may define success, words will help manifest that vision into reality.
“There are also words and phrases that can damage your self-image, mar your reputation, and jeopardize your success,” Price says. “To optimise your success, eliminate this language from your vocabulary and never speak it to yourself or another person.”
Here are 17 phrases successful people never say:
“I have no choice,” or, “I had no choice.”
“Successful people always see the options, regardless of the circumstances,” Price says. “To say we have no choice in the matter implies that we perceive ourselves as a victim; that we are less powerful than our environment.” These weak words relieve the speaker of all responsibility.
Successful people say: “I have a choice,” “Here are our options,” or, “Let’s imagine all the possibilities.” They know that claiming and exercising the power to choose is the first step toward achieving their goals, she says.
“I should have,” or, “I could have.”
The words “should,” “could,” and “ought” imply regret, blame, finger-pointing, and fault, whether you say them to yourself or another person. “Successful people don’t wallow in the past, and they rarely regret a decision or action,” says Price. “Even if it’s deemed a failure by others, they accept it as a learning experience that gets them one step closer to their goal.”
Similarly, they avoid: “You should have,” and, “You could have.” “There’s no quicker way to upset a boss, colleague, or customer than to suggest they’re guilty of something (even if they are).” Instead, take a collaborative approach. Say, “Please help me understand why…” or, “Next time may we adopt an alternative approach…”
“I can’t do that,” or, “That’s impossible,” or, “That can’t be done.”
Not only are these words self-limiting, others perceive them as pessimistic, unconstructive, even defeatist, Price explains. “Achievers know there are countless roadblocks on the road to success — barriers that may stall or stump, but never stop them.” They either remove the barrier, or figure out a way to go over, under, or around it.
The words “can’t” or “impossible” rarely enter the minds of successful people. “Instead of throwing in the towel,” Price says, “they speak in terms of alternative ways to get the work accomplished: ‘What I can do is…’ ‘I’m sure there’s a way to…’ ‘Instead of ___, let’s try___.'”
As the great industrialist Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”
“That’s not my job,” or, “I don’t get paid enough for this,” or, “That’s not my problem.”
Successful people help others succeed.
As billionaire Warren Buffett says, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
“Think of ‘planting trees’ as your job,” Price says. “If you’re asked to do something by your boss, coworker, or a customer, it’s because it’s important to them. Therefore, as a team player, goal No. 1 is to figure out how to help them get it accomplished.”
Even if it’s not in your job description, by saying so displays a career-limiting bad attitude. Even if your boss lays an unreasonable request on your desk, reply positively by saying, “Sure, I’ll be glad to help you accomplish that. Given my current tasks of A, B, and C, which one of these would you like to place on back-burner while I work on this new assignment?”
“This response clearly communicates a prioritised workload, alongside a willing attitude to help,” she says.
“But we’ve always done it that way,” or, “That’s not the way we do it here.”
Successful people are passionate about innovation, finding a better way of doing something. In fact, Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” For this reason, effective managers value employees who demonstrate creative thinking, flexibility, and problem-solving skill, Price explains.
“These phrases, in one fell swoop, reveal you are the opposite: stuck in the past, inflexible, and closed-minded,” she says. “Even if you disagree with someone’s idea, say instead, ‘Wow, that’s an interesting idea. How would that work?’ Or, ‘That’s a different approach. Let’s discuss the pros and cons.'”
“It’s not fair.”
She got a raise, you didn’t. He was recognised, you weren’t. That department is receiving funding, yours isn’t. “Injustices happen on the job and in the world every day,” she says. “Successful people are proactive about issues versus reactive. Instead of complaining or whining, take action: document the facts, build a case, and present an intelligent argument to the person or group that can help you.”
“He’s a jerk,” or, “She’s lazy,” or, “My job stinks,” or, “I hate this company.”
Successful people avoid words of judgment, insult, and negativity, says Price.
“Regardless of your feelings or the circumstances, avoid making unconstructive or judgmental statements that convey a negative attitude toward people or your job.” If a genuine complaint or issue needs to be brought to someone’s attention, do so with well-documented facts, tact, consideration, and neutrality.
“Nothing tanks a career faster than name-calling or mudslinging,” she says. “Not only does it reveal juvenile immaturity, it’s language that may be libel and fire-able.” Successful people choose words carefully to state observable facts and avoid disparaging language.
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