I recently facilitated a discussion at ‘Inspiring Women, Inspiring Women’: a networking and learning event in Devon organised by Clair Wellsbury-Nye. An impressive, diverse collective of around 15 women attended, and I’ve been mulling over elements of that conversation ever since.
The topic was, ‘Using More Empowering Language’. This has been mildly on my radar for a while – both as a wordsmith and as a woman. However, it’s not a subject reserved for women; plenty of men I know empower/disempower themselves with the language they use too. Whether it’s in speech or in the written word, there are some words that can quietly sneak into your vocabulary and make you sound a bit… lame.
But how do you employ more empowering language without bluster and boastfulness? First, let’s look at some common culprits:
Some non-empowering words
- ‘Just’ – ‘I’m just emailing to…’, or ‘I’m just part-time’. Nope.
- ‘Only’ – same as.
- ‘Sorry’ – a hard one to shift, this one. But instead, perhaps, ‘Thank you for being patient/understanding’.
- ‘Try’ – ‘I’ll try and get that done by Monday’. Meh.
- ‘I think’ – dilutes your point before you’ve even made it.
- ‘I should/I’d better’ – or, ‘I will’, ‘I want to’.
- ‘I can’t’ – or, ‘I’m not willing to’, ‘I don’t want to’.
- ‘But’ – experiment with switching ‘but’ for ‘and yet’.
Got any more?
So, what can we ALL do to use more empowering language?
The answer – and also the emerging theme in our discussion – begins with awareness.
Build in thinking time in to ensure you respond, rather than react.
Notice your use of empowering/disempowering language, and that of others.
Think before you speak/write (and read emails again before sending them).
And the key? It’s not the words you add in but the ones you remove which empower you.
From a creative perspective, this makes perfect sense. As a writer, I enjoy chipping away at a cumbersome, clumsy paragraph until it becomes one beautifully formed sentence. A designer will thrive on removing elements until the white space is given space to shine through.
I’m not saying that maintaining a frosty silence will do you any favours. But in a world of noise, claim back your measured silence: the gaps in the conversation, the spaces between the words, the pause for thought. Use this as your most empowering tool for communication.
Olivia Dunn is Head of Marketing & Communications for Halpin Partnership.