We are often careless with our words, and some of them are so laden with negative meanings that we cause great harm without realizing it. Recently I began a discussion of such words,
Words That Matter Part 2
Words That Really Matter
and now we’ll continue with another one:
When we’re given assignments that are difficult or risky, or if we’re treated “unfairly,” or if the government or some other organization makes decisions we disapprove of, we tend to complain. We tend to say some variation of “I don’t like it that . . .”
Why do we do this? Because even as small children we learned that our disapproval was a powerful deterrent to our parents. If they instructed us to do something we didn’t like, we frowned, or cried, or laid on the floor kicking our feet, because we discovered that then our parents often changed their instructions.
Our parents—like anyone else—truly hated disapproval, and when we expressed our disapproval loudly enough, we often succeeded in getting them to back down. Nobody was conscious of this process, but it was very real and effective. So we continue using this tool now as adults. By saying “I don’t like” as adults, we can make our supervisors and others question their decisions. We can make them defensive and less likely to insist on their original choice.
As I taught my children early in life, however, “I don’t like it” is not a plan. It’s lazy and irresponsible. It requires no genuine thinking, creativity, or responsibility. We say “I don’t like it” because it’s much easier to lie in the middle of the road and become an obstacle than it is to build a car, plot a course, and get it from one place to another.
So what can we say instead of “I don’t like it?” If we have good reason to oppose a decision or plan, there are far more constructive ways to express that:
- “Could you give me a day to think about this? I want to be all the way behind whatever we do, and I need to consider whether there might be a better way to do this, or an even better way for me to contribute.”
- “That is going to be a lot of work. I’m not sure I can do it in a week, but in a couple of days I’ll let you know what my progress is, so you’ll be able to make your own plans accordingly.”
- “I want to help. The way you’ve proposed to do it would be unfamiliar to me. Do you mind if I simply get the job done, but possibly a different way from the one you’ve suggested?”
- “I have questions about how the government is running that program, but I confess that I can’t think of a better way to accomplish their stated purpose.”
In future blogs we’ll discuss more words that have a much greater negative effect than we realize or intend.