Two Vital Word Swaps for Your Everyday Life


One of the biggest reasons I have loved living abroad is that it truly increases the amount of information I can learn in any given day. You’re immersed in a culture different from your own and more often than not, you’re starting at zero. There’s nowhere to go but up! “Oh, I can pick up packages at 1am from the post office?” Great. “Ahh, it’s customary to mix mayo and ketchup together for dipping your fries?” Cool. “Oops, I put the trash out on the wrong day.” I think you get it. I dig learning. And language.

I don’t know how old I was when people started saying, “Stop saying ‘can’t’ and instead say ‘you can.’ Reasons centered on maximizing vision, self-esteem, motivation, positivity, etc. However, if you don’t believe that it will actually “work”, what good is it?

More recently, I was part of an organization that proselytized eliminating the use of the word ‘try.’ The mentality behind this was if you can only ‘try’, you won’t be able to do. It was also considered a form of self-regulation, something that I seem to already have a lot of. At least this is what the same organization’s recommended psychometric and brain exercise tests told me. Furthermore, as a very goal-oriented person in general, I didn’t see the value to me personally (while others might find it more useful). If I want to do something, I go out and do it. Subsequently, I usually refrained from criticizing this “try” policy and censored my language, opting not to say “try” specifically in front of people I knew were “sensitive” to its use. In fact, this became an even better form of self-regulation.

Looking back, I believe I was looking for better language that would both apply and appeal to a wider variety of people. What words could simultaneously boost my attitude and improve my relationships and communication with others?

Two years ago, I had a friendly, enthusiastic classmate who would often disagree with our MBA professors. Every class, he would raise his hand, smile, and once called upon, would start with “Yes, but…” The rest of us would laugh because we knew what was coming. Our energetic classmate was always about to say that the professor’s point was wrong. Several of us repeatedly told him that he should just state his opinion from the beginning. Still, it morphed into a weekly entertaining segment of class. (Sidenote: We all really did love this classmate!)

So, as I dove into finally reading Susan Scott’s book, “Fierce Conversations”, this week, I received one answer that made me smile and think of my classmate. Scott advocates replacing the word “but” with “and” and provides examples of how to do so – how it can transform a conversation, email, or message. By saying “and” instead of “but”, you can avoid blame and demonstrate/accept multiple realities. In Scott’s words, “Multiple realities don’t compete. They just exist.” If you happen to be delivering a piece of potentially difficult news, using “and” will make this news better received. I thought this “and” business would be perfect for Fabio!

As a result, I have become far more conscious of using the world “but”, particularly in my written communication. Perhaps my verbal communication is phase 2 of implementation? The latter is a big challenge because I use it countless times a day. Additionally, this triggered an article I’d read years ago about gratitude. One that coincidently discussed replacing another key phrase we use every day, much more than we realize.

This time, the linchpins were perspective and approach, because that’s what eliminating this phrase would positively change. By replacing “have to” with “get to”, you empower yourself to remember that we all should be grateful just to be here, to have the opportunities we do. It makes us more aware of what are we able – and privileged – to do. In choosing to focus on the more positive “get to”, we can minimize whatever negativity we associate with the “have to” activity.

Exhausted because you have to stay up with the crying baby all night? Remember that it’s something you get to do while many people are out there unable to have children for one reason or another. So you have to study for that math test? Be thankful you are able to attend school and learn. Many children will never have the chance. Frustrated with your perceived small amount of vacation time? You get to consider options of how to tackle this. Or you get to plan the vacation time you do have. While life is short, we often forget that each day is a gift – one that we should fully embrace. Often, it’s a matter of reframing, de-centering, or whichever buzz word you prefer to use. It seems that I get to experience more gratitude now.

These simple word changes have already had a positive impact on my outlook and interpersonal skills. I feel and perform better. What about you? Did these word swaps resonate? If so, which alternative words have you incorporated to better your everyday life and relationships?

In my next post, I’m going to continue the language conversation and discuss identity in the process. Stay tuned.

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