Saturday, September 22, 2007

My Self-Defeating Speech Habits

I believe I’ve mentioned in a previous post that it bothers me that my husband never says, "I’m sorry." Well, the irony of that hit me the other day when I was reading an article and realized that I say "I’m sorry" all the time! I apologize for everything, whether it’s my fault or not. "I’m sorry you don’t feel well," I’ll say to a friend, as if I were responsible for her illness. "I’m sorry to bother you," I’ll say, as if whatever I have to say is certainly not important enough to be worthy of someone’s attention. "I’m sorry if this isn’t what you wanted . . ." I’ll say, assuming someone won’t like what I’ve done for her. So, why am I so overly apologetic?

According to "Are Your Words Holding You Back?" by Ellen Welty (Redbook, October 2007), "self-defeating speech habits" such as this can get to be, well, a habit! And, I found out, I’m guilty of quite a few. Here are some others that Welty points out in which I recognized myself:

• Have you ever been in a meeting in which you brought up an idea that was met with a so-so reaction, and then somebody else brought up the idea later and it was met with enthusiasm? Think back to how you broached your idea. If you started out by saying, "This is probably a stupid idea, but . . ." or "This might not work, but . . ." or "I’m no expert, but . . ." then you’ve given your listeners permission to appoint a lower value to your opinion. When someone else boldly states, "We need to do this . . . ," then the idea is suddenly taken seriously!

• Do you preface your statements with the words "I think"? For instance, "I think I can handle that," or "I think I’m pretty good at that," or "I think we should do it that way." Experts say this phrasing is "a hedge," allowing you to play it safe and not totally commit to an idea. Needless to say, many people take your words more as opinion than fact, and don’t take them seriously.

• The word "just" is also highly over-used. If you tell someone that you’re "just an administrative assistant," or you call your friend and announce, "It’s just me," then you’re minimizing your importance in the eyes of others.

The problem with using these speech patterns is that they really do cause people to begin to see you as being less capable. And when these people treat you in a manner that supports that belief, it validates in your own mind that you’re not worthy. It’s a chain reaction that needs to be broken by being more conscious of your use of these phrases and getting rid of them. Now that I’m aware of these harmful speech patterns coming out of my own mouth, I’m vowing to try to banish them from my conversations. I think you should join me . . . I mean, please join me today!

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