Words are living things! They “live” in our perceptions which are colored by related past experiences. If a word reminds us of a pleasant enjoyable experience then that word is perceived in a positive way. The same is true in reverse.
Try explaining something dynamically positive in your life to another who recoils at every descriptive word used! That was my experience years ago when trying to share a powerful spiritual experience with a friend. Every word that had a “churchy” connotation was met with anger, bitterness and tears. It seems her experience with the words had been painful – a pain that had never healed! Believe me, those words have a life of their own – a very different one for her than for me!
But then my friend is not alone. My Mother was fond of telling folks that “Linda is a dreamer“. Mom’s tone of voice and facial expression indicated she did not consider being a dreamer a positive attribute. Thus as I grew older, I recoiled when every anyone referred to me as a dreamer. Even the word “visionary” had an edge that I found a bit uncomfortable. It took years of re-conditioning and the affirmation of others to convince me it was okay to dream and en-vision!
When it comes to women in business – especially small business; words and how we use them is vitally important. Even though it’s not at all unusual for women to be in the marketplace in some capacity, many of us still feel a bit ‘timid’ when stepping into what has traditionally been a “man’s world”. And men’s language can be tough-hard-edged, even disreputable at times. Men conduct business differently than women – or at least it appears to be so. And when we encounter a woman who has adopted the male model; it’s not any more comfortable than being the only woman in the room!
When entering conversation with others – for business or personal reasons, we’re in unknown territory. Especially if we are meeting the other person for the first time. It’s not just how they will perceive us – but how they will perceive what we say! And nothing can be more of a spoiler than to use a word or phrase that causes the other to flush red in the face or suddenly lean back in the chair with arms folded tightly over the chest.
Oh my, just writing the above causes my heart to race and my gut to churn! Been there – done that – survived to tell – but found it one of life’s less delightful moments!
So how do we avoid these unpleasant life episodes? Well, I’m certainly not an expert on the matter, but I will suggest the following:
1. Use QUESTIONS – let early conversations in which you and another are getting to know each other be about asking questions. Questions will give you a feel for how life has treated him or her and help avoid stepping into the deep pit of another’s most difficult life moments.
2. Be QUIET and LISTEN – as you listen with your ears, listen also with your eyes. What is the body language that accompanies the words. Facial expressions of pleasure vs the proverbial cloud that passes across the eyes. Hands open and freely used to accentuate what is being said vs rolled tightly into fists. Normal breathing vs heavy rising and falling of the chest. Comfortable in the chair vs squirming about. Leaning forward vs sitting back to create distance between ‘thee and me’.
3. WATCH your own LANGUAGE – stay away from controversial items, such as religion, politics and social issues that are lightening rods for division. If the other brings up such matters – don’t shy away, but seek to discern their reason for doing so. Gingerly walk into furthering such a discussion unless the body language indicates it’s treacherous ground.
Best piece of wisdom? Ask QUESTIONS to help reveal the other’s deepest held feelings about such subjects. Then slowly shift the conversation to less dangerous territory!
4. Seek CLARITY – the old groupie expression about which I once laughed is perfect in such situations. “What I hear you saying is _ _ _ ” works well. It helps determine if you are hearing correctly and gives the other an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. The bantering between the two of you not only clarifies, but helps to develop a deeper level of relationship.
5. Say I’M SORRY – if you inadvertently walk into quick sand, offering an apology is the best course of action. We can’t guarantee another’s response to a genuine statement of sorrow over misplaced words; but we can leave the other with the knowledge that we are a woman of integrity who can take whatever responsibility we bear if conversation turns south.
Well that’s all I have to offer given I’m not a conversationalist expert. I have however lived a lot of life and found myself in wordy quicksand more often than I care to recount. The previous 5 suggestions have served me well as I grew in wisdom and a strong sense of my own maturity with words.
Bottom line – seek knowledge of the other first. Then proceed with caution and continue with a compassionate ear and heart!
Linda S. Fitzgerald, Visionary Partner
Champion of Ordinarily Extraordinary Women of the World
A Women’s Place Network, Inc. dba
Affiliated Women International
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