I recently came across this quote from Michele Toomey, psychologist and author of Social Interaction: Shaping Each Other’s Lives:
“Words can inform our mind, caress and comfort our feelings, excite and thrill our spirit, or warm and kindle the flame of our hearts. They can also slap our face, punch us in the stomach, rattle our nerves, kill our desire, or destroy our self-confidence. Of course this is metaphorical, but these metaphors capture in words our physical reactions to what is said, and that is the power of language. It can emotionally move and affect us as powerfully as physical actions.”
It got me thinking that even the simplest articulated sound or written word can have a huge impact on others and ourselves. After all, language is our preferred method of communication, and we use it to create an effect every day – from complimenting a friend to give them a boost, to cracking a joke to make someone laugh. I have always been fascinated by the power of words. I even spent 3 years of my life studying them. One thing I have learned is that words don’t just convey meaning, they are a force.
It was only recently that I really realized how strong that force is. From updating and tailoring my CV to filling out online applications, I have been harnessing language in order to sell myself and find a job, and it has to be done just right in order to show you have the skills and the potential to slot into the job, without using empty words, sounding cheesy or using clichés.
Language defines you
The truth is, the language we use can have a massive impact on the way we are viewed. It’s been found that being able to communicate effectively is more important to employers than actual qualifications. According to an International Employer Barometer survey, ‘soft’ skills including communication skills and team working are the most important capabilities sought amongst new graduates, with over 85% of employers regarding these as important, compared to 60% rating a good degree qualification as important.
This is good news for those who may not be as studious, and suggests that if we can use the right language, showing we can communicate effectively, we’re on the road to success. But what exactly is the ‘right language’?
These days we are so careless with what we say, especially in the age of Facebook, Twitter and blogs. We comment without thought, tweet our every move, and click publish without re-reading. Because we use language so automatically and unconsciously, we treat it lightly – we don’t think about how it influences the people around us. We think that because we can hide behind our screens, we can use language however we want.
With the growing importance of social media, online language is becoming just as important as language face-to-face. The language we use online is an extension of our personality. That’s why it’s so important that we think about what we write and say, and choose our words carefully.
Language shapes your experience
Words aren’t only important to those we direct them to, but ourselves. Another thing I have learned is that language shapes the way we experience the world. According to Marketing Strategist, Ivana Taylor, publisher of DIYMarketers, the words you use could actually be sabotaging your own success.
Taylor says that people use the words ‘but’, ‘want’, ‘should’, ‘try’ and ‘hope’ not only with a high frequency, but also in a context that puts people in a negative mindset.
These are all things I have said recently: “I’d love to buy that dress, but I can’t afford it”, “I want to get a job”, “I should contact that company”, “I’ll try to update my CV”, “I hope I find a flat”.
Observe how every one of these statements is self-defeating – they are all potential actions that go undone and therefore have no impact. Ivana Taylor suggests that you should transform passive words into powerful actions:
- Replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’ gives you more options by turning an excuse into a possibility – “how can I afford to buy the dress?”, and possibly a solution.
- Replacing ‘want’ with ‘am’, changes a usually passive word into a verb. “I am getting a job” puts you more in control of the outcome.
- ‘Should’ and ‘try’ are both weak words which shift the blame if you don’t succeed. Substituting them with ‘will’ leaves no room to change your mind. Thus “I will contact that company” and “I will update my CV” both demonstrate strong positive actions.
- ‘Hope’ can go either way – you can be hopeful or have hope. However, when you find yourself hoping without an action plan in place, swap the word ‘hope’ with a word like ‘intend.’ Instead of hoping to find a flat, intend to find one.
Language can make you proactive
So using language in a positive and meaningful way changes your outlook on situations and can help you put your own thoughts into actions. Don’t speak out of habit or convenience, speak of with a clear purpose. Realise the potential your language has to create and transform your life.
Depending on how you wield it, language is an immensely powerful tool. It can be the weapon that weakens, or the medicine that heals. And with great power…well, you know the rest!