These phrases will affect how people perceive you

These phrases will affect how people perceive you

The Oxford English Dictionary has just been reprinted with more than 500 new words and phrases. With September 2016 being the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth, the quarterly update has marked the occasion with many new entries connected to his writing. These include splendiferous (“humorous word for splendid”), human bean (a “humourous alteration” of human being) and scrumdiddlyumptious (“for those occasions when scrumptious simply won’t do”). Language is constantly changing and our individual uses of language reflect our outlook, generation, view of the world and how pessimistic or optimistic we are.

In this article we consider how your choice of words and phrases has a powerful impact. It can either empower or disempower you and/or others.

  • It reflects how you feel about yourself
  • It also further affects, either positively or negatively, how you feel yourself
  • It impacts on how others perceive and so respond to you
  • This in turn affects your level of self-esteem

You can disempower yourself, without even a little help from your ‘friends’!

Negative prefacing

Do you ever preface what you want to say with words and phrases that either:

  • minimise the importance of what you want to convey, or
  • have the opposite effect from that you intend?

I call this ‘negative prefacing’. Here are five examples:

1. Minimising prefaces

When you minimise your message, you can also end up putting yourself down in the process. Both these and self-deprecatory remarks reflect your own self-doubt and put seeds of doubt in other people’s minds.

  • This may not be important but…
  • I’m not sure if this is relevant but …
  • This may sound trivial but…
  • I know this is pathetic but…

2. Self-deprecatory prefaces

  • I may be wrong but…
  • This might be a stupid idea but…
  • I know this sounds awful but…
  • This is probably a dreadful thing to say…
  • I expect you’ll think I’m horrible saying this…

If you tell someone that your idea is possibly trivial or stupid, that’s what they’ll expect. If you say in advance that your contribution may not be relevant, people may ignore it. You are setting yourself up not to be heard, not to be taken seriously. If you tell someone in advance that you may be wrong or it’s a dreadful thing to say, they’ll expect you to be wrong and that you’re about to say something dreadful. Perhaps you’ve chosen to say it to preempt them saying to you!

3. Apologetic prefaces

If you want someone’s attention, advice or help, these unassertive prefaces are not the best way to ensure it.

  • Could I have a quick word?
  • I’m terribly sorry to disturb you…
  • I hope I’m not troubling you at an awkward time…
  • I know this may not be the best time for you…

4. Adverse prefaces

Some prefacing, designed to soften the blow, increases the blow and is more likely to generate conflict. Adverse prefacing ensures that your statement is unacceptable to the other party even before you begin. In suggesting how you expect them to feel, you fuel their emotions. Here are examples:

  • I hope you won’t be angry or upset but…
  • I don’t mean to offend you but ….
  • I hope you won’t feel let down but…
  • I don’t want to hurt your feelings but…

Such verbal triggers are likely to result in the other person feeling angry, upset, offended, disappointed and hurt, precisely the opposite of what you hope for.

5. Aggressive prefaces

Starting a conversation aggressively brings a potential for conflict.

  • Don’t take this the wrong way
  • You’re not going to like this
  • I don’t mean to be rude…
  • I’ve wanted to say this for ages…
  • To be perfectly, or even ‘brutally’ honest…

The other person will expect something rude and unpalatable. It may stop them wanting to hear what you have to say, after all, you may be giving them a shock as to what’s coming!

So drop these unnecessary verbal triggers and instead go ahead and say what you want to say, clearly, politely and respectfully.

Negative punctuation

As well as all these prefaces, avoid punctuating your message with negative words and phrases

Hesitant words or statements

  • It’s only…
  • It’s just that…
  • I’m not exactly sure if this is the case but…
  • Sorry if I sound…I was just wondering if…
  • Only, just, perhaps, maybe, possibly

Once again these apologetic and passive approaches can disempower you and create uncertainty for you and for others.

Beyond words

So if you believe that YOLO* and you FOMO** and you want to be able to SQUEE*** about the future, take stock of your language and use positive and assertive expressions and diplomatic and negotiating approaches to build positive relationships and situations.

* YOLO – You only live once, used to express the view that one should make the most of the present moment without worrying about the future

**FOMO – meaning fear of missing out

***SQUEE – used to express great delight and enjoyment

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary)




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About the author

Lucy Seifert is a life coach and author with over 25 years’ experience coaching and training individuals and within organisations. She brings a unique blend of coaching and training to her work, specialising in confident communication, public speaking and time/stress management. Her training manuals for professionals include Training for Assertiveness (Gower/Ashgate). Learn more here. More blog posts by Lucy Seifert ››
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