Constructive & Destructive Words

In this blog, we’ve written a lot about words. We’ve written about choosing them carefully and speaking them well. We've talked about who we say words to and in what tone or pitch we say them. Today, is different. Today, I’d like to talk to you about construction and destruction.

A friend and business associate is putting together an inspirational event and she and I were talking about her theme and content. Our conversation veered and traveled as great conversations often do, and we found ourselves talking about words. Words that build us up and words that tear down or limit us.

We talked about the words “should” or “shouldn’t” and how they seem to be used mostly to describe what others think of our decisions or actions. We talked about “but” and how it devalues and plays opposite to what we mean. For example, “This proposal is brilliant and everything we want, but you need to change one little thing.”

One of my favorite destructive words is “just.” Women in particular use this word. “Ijust wanted to reach out to you…” or “I just thought that we might look at this…” We preemptively qualify ourselves so you don’t have to.

Another destructive word is “fine.” It doesn’t mean what you think it does and it is not an appropriate response to “How are you?” “Good,” or “sad” or “freaking out” are appropriate responses, but not “fine.” Using it in this way is destructive to genuine communication.

Bias words are destructive. Words that are indicative of any kind of prejudice cannot be used constructively outside of an educational environment.

Constructive words are words that are inclusive and powerful. Words like “we” and “us” build bridges. “Yes, and…” is a great constructive phrase. It’s encouraging without necessarily agreeing. Our brains prefer positive words and phrases like “Things are going well now, thanks,” as opposed to “My life sucked up until a week ago.”

We tend to reject absolutes. Do you really believe someone when they tell you that something always happens, or that something will never happen? Nope, me neither.

Language is miraculous. The fact that we can all agree that a particular sound means or indicates a certain thing or idea, is nothing less than awe-inspiring. Take into account that we’ve done it repeatedly, proven by the number of languages we humans share, and it’s staggering. The choice of whether you want to use your language super power for good (construction) or evil (destruction) is entirely up to you. Choose wisely.

LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC.  Her company uses theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.