Discover more from All Rise with Sally Helgesen
The Soft Power of Language
Speak From Your Comfort Zone
With many of our workplaces reduced to a Zoom or Teams panel view, we’re more dependent than ever on the power of the language we choose to use. Body language, posture and gesture are less able to carry the weight of what we mean, need, care about or object to. Our words count more.
This can feel intimidating, but it need not be. The key is using language that doesn’t cause us to feel stressed. By intentionally selecting words that we ourselves are comfortable with, we operate from a place of authenticity, creating stronger connections and greater clarity of purpose. We aren’t trying to be authentic, or worrying about whether we are authentic: we are inhabiting our authentic selves because the words we choose reflect what is true for us and are framed in a way others can hear.
“Wait,” you may be saying. “Aren’t I supposed to be trying to get out of my comfort zone? Hasn’t everyone been telling me that for years?”
Certainly, in some situations pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone is a good thing. We don’t want to become risk averse or stuck in a groove that doesn’t lead us forward. But our comfort zone also has a purpose, as one of my favorite examples makes clear:
Let’s say you feel uneasy claiming your achievements in front of others. To you, it feels as if you’re bragging, grandstanding, or grabbing glory that really belongs to your team. Choosing the right language can help you cushion this discomfort. It can protect you from feeling like a jerk, an imposter, or a braggart.
So instead of saying, “I did this,” or “I achieved that,” consider swapping out the word achievement and using the word contribution in its place.
When speaking publicly about a successful team effort, for example, you might say, “Our team solved the customer’s distribution problem in a way that cut their time to market by 20 percent, which was a huge cost savings for them and a big plus for their customers downstream as well. I was able to contribute some thoughts on rerouting one part of the supply chain. The team took that idea and ran with it.”
This is a helpful technique because using the language of contribution embeds your efforts in the context of a larger success. You get to speak about what you did, but in a way you’re comfortable with that doesn’t make you appear like a glory hound.
Words such as contribution are like pillows that cushion and pad your personal comfort zone. They create a safe space in which you can operate to advantage while demonstrating generosity and team spirit. This allows you to communicate with more authenticity and less stress–– to be yourself at your most effective.
I’ll be sharing more ideas next week about speaking clearly and comfortably with intention.
Meanwhile, here’s a challenge: think about which words make you feel at ease, choosing the softest and deepest pillows in your repertoire. You’ll probably find that these words help both you and others feel more comfortable. And what’s wrong with that?