“Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or the deepest despair.” Sigmund Freud

My parents used to tell me “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never harm you.” What nonsense! It’s words we remember, especially the ones that hurt us. Words can generate emotions, get people to act, and change how people think so choosing the right ones is important. This is not so much about good grammar and vocabulary but rather the power that is inherent in the words you use.


If you want to kill someone’s enthusiasm stone dead, use the word “but”. If someone interrupts you with a but, that’s what you remember because the negative is what stays with us. Look at the difference in positive and negative impact between these pairs of sentences:

  • You did a great job on this report but the layout needs improving versus You did a great job on this report and I think you can tweak the layout to make it look great too.
  • This is a great idea but we don’t have the budget versus this is a great idea and let’s see if we can afford it.

Using “and” is an affirmation that you have heard what someone is saying and that you value them. It’s a sure way to keep a conversation going, yet we use BUT all the time.

How often do you use BUT?


The words all or none suggests that there is nothing further to be done. Using some will give a more relaxed perspective when you are catastrophizing. – instead of Everything is going wrong– think “some things are going wrong”. Generalizations also don’t help in good communication because they aren’t true e.g. ”all men are cheats”, “all politicians are corrupt” “all whites are racists”.


Saying “I know” to someone is a big dampener, especially if they are sharing something they have just found out for themselves. If you say “Yes. You’re right” the other person feels good and you come across positively.


Yet is an important part of a growth mindset and it’s so powerful. I love that it has become such a key word in the vocabulary of good teachers. But it’s not just for children, it is useful in the way we talk to ourselves and how we internalize confidence. Look at how these sentences are transformed by adding “yet” to them

I can’t do this…yet

This doesn’t work…yet

I don’t know….yet

This doesn’t make sense…yet

I don’t get it….yet

I’m not good at this….yet

I haven’t had a promotion….yet

Similar to this, is saying ‘I’ve never been organized/disciplined/tidy” versus “up to this point I haven’t been organized/disciplined/tidy”.


Replace the words failing with learning in your vocabulary. Think about “I’m failing Statistics at Uni” versus “I’m learning Statistics at Uni.”


Have you ever given a presentation or summed up a meeting and then asked, “Do you have any questions?” and had everyone stare blankly or look down at their notes? Try phrasing it as “What questions do you have?” – you’re much more likely to get some.

Also, be direct when you need something. Instead of asking “Does anyone have a calculator? ask “Who has a calculator?”

Another great question that can open doors and build relationships is “Can I ask your advice?” You’ll be surprised at how happy people are to respond.

Use these phrases more often!

I need your help.

Can I ask your advice?

I’m sorry.

Thank you.

What can I do?

I get how you are feeling.


“Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten.” Unknown

photgraph by Glen Carrie, unsplash.com

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