“You should, you ought and you never”

The language we use can have a huge impact upon our interactions with others, either enhancing relationships or creating difficulties. This is true of personal and work-based relationships and it is something that we are all likely to experience.

Linguistic mistakes render your messages ineffective; they can also affect your mood and confidence detrimentally.

In contrast, using assertive language helps you to get your message across effectively whilst respecting both yourself and others.

Here are six words and phrases to avoid:

1. You should, you ought, you must, you have to and you can’t”

These aggressive commands are likely to cause recipients to jump on the barricades and defend themselves. Think how YOU might feel and react if someone says to you “You should do that”. What they really mean is that THEY want YOU to do it! Instead use the assertive “I” and express what you wish for: “I hope you will … or I suggest x,y,z and wonder what you think?” Then ask them for their view… and listen to what they say! 

“You never get things right” or “You’re always getting things wrong”.

These types of exaggerations and accusations cause people to become defensive, potentially causing a row. It is unlikely that they “always” or “never” do or don’t do what you’re suggesting. Pointing the finger can only make matters worse whereas calm discussion without apportioning blame paves the way for dialogue.

3. Words such as maybe, perhaps or possibly.

Saying “I’m too tired to meet tonight” is honest & the other person knows where they stand. Better than the uncertain “Possibly. I’ll see how I feel” leaving the other person unsure whether to wait for you or arrange something else. Hesitation and unclear messages create confusion and uncertainty. Be confident, clear and polite about what you do and don’t want. If you mean no, better to say so than ‘um and ah’ until the last minute, causing stress and uncertainty to both of you.

4. “I don’t mind”.

You may think that this statement gives an easy-going impression and avoids rocking the boat; in reality it gives an unclear message and causes confusion. The more you are in the habit of saying “I don’t mind”, the harder it is likely to be for you to make decisions at all!

Does it really mean “NO”? It could sound like you don’t care or can’t be bothered or want the other person to take decisions on your behalf, (decisions you may not like). Better to say: “I’d prefer to do x or y. How about you?”

“I only need a minute of your time”, “Sorry to ask”, “Sorry to disturb you”, “I just want to ask” “I wonder if you could possibly…?”

Such apologetic and subservient expressions will reduce your effectiveness, stop you being taken seriously. Instead be clear about what you want: “I’d like to ask your advice on…” is far more confident than “I just want to ask…”

6. “hopeless”, “dreadful” “terrible” and “I can’t stand it”.

You’re unlikely to feel on top of the world if these melodramatics are part of your everyday vocabulary! These ‘disaster’ words can also put the dampeners on those you’re talking to.

In practice:

  • Ask if someone would consider doing x or y instead of saying “You should”.
  • Tell yourself that “I could” instead of saying “I should”.
  • Simply state the facts as opposed to making judgements such as “you never”.
  • Be clear with your “yes” or “no” and with your timing, rather than saying “possibly” or “perhaps”. This avoids uncertainty.
  • Be clear about your preferences rather than saying “I don’t mind”.
  • Avoid saying “just”: ask confidently “I’d like to ask” instead of “I’d just like to ask”.
  • Be factual and specific, avoiding miserable melodrama like “foul” and “horrendous".

You can avoid linguistic mistakes by:

  • Being aware of the words and phrases that undermine yourself and others.
  • Thinking about what you are saying so that you can stop language that confuses, minimises or undermines.
  • Using confident and assertive language instead.

If you choose to, you can change your own language and behaviour. Communicating assertively and with confidence will have a positive affect on how you feel as well as and on others’ behaviour and responses. Experience the difference it makes.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, NW11
Written by Lucy Seifert, Life Coach London
London, NW11

As individuals, our personal challenges vary greatly. Issues can affect us at home, at work and in our relationships. My coaching and training skills combine to help you build confidence and design strategies to confront life's challenges. With my friendly, professional expertise and your determination, together we can make positive changes.

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