Busting the Word Choice Challenge
So I'm writing my next book, an as-yet-untitled leadership book for introverts. My intention is to make it a very relatable book. I want to tap into my 30 years in corporate America to provide impactful tips to readers.
I am working with an awesome writing coach. His first advice was to write "colloquially." So my first task was to look up the word "colloquial."
Shouldn't a word meaning "informal" or "casual" actually be simple and familiar? Writing this new style prompted me to closely examine word choice throughout my life. I am aiming to make the book conversational. However, I've also realized many people, certainly not limited to shy introverts like myself, often suffer from three different word choice challenges- timidity, obligatory, and vocational:
I've noticed my tendency to use timid words, as in these examples:
I JUST wanted to follow up on my request.
PERHAPS I can ask your opinion.
MAYBE you would consider doing that differently.
I BELIEVE you would benefit from a different word choice.
These words are almost apologetic. Heck, we often do apologize before speaking:
I'm SORRY this may not sound clear, but I have an idea...
These words are often associated with requests. We feel like we are intruding when we ask for help or call to remind someone of an appointment or obligation. But there is nothing to apologize for. It's actually quite kind to provide that follow up. Adults and professionals shouldn't require reminders - but that's another issue altogether.
Word choice is a window into our demeanor, temperament, and self-esteem. Timid words scream of low self-confidence. I did suffer from low self-confidence for decades, not because I was introverted, but because I was not encouraged to be a young introvert. I began to feel different, anti-social, and not normal. However, introversion is not a synonym for low self-esteem. We can be confident in who we are, our strengths, and our impact. So we don't need to sprinkle these timid words throughout our conversations.
This phenomenon is not limited to the words we speak. Scan your emails, journals, or manuscripts and you will likely find these words splattered across your writings too. We are naturally thoughtful writers and speakers, so we should be able to strip these timid words out of our vocabulary.
In doing so, you may feel a new discomfort. I was raised with humility. My dad was the epitome of the word humble. He was a gentle person, he rarely got angry, and he was a man of few words. He didn't even have a middle name! Removing these bashful words makes me feel more intrusive, more forceful. We should be cautious not to come across as brash or pushy, but managing our timidity ushers in a bold new aura of confidence and control. Not control over others, but over our own interests, thoughts, and needs.
Over the last decade, I've embraced my own introversion and have grown comfortable and, yes, more confident, as the new me. Seeing these apologetic words in past blogs and manuscripts suggests my journey may take longer and go deeper than I first thought. That's okay. Life is a journey made of small steps forward.
Be mindful of your use of these words in your conversations and writing. It may surprise you. We should all strive to filter these words out and stand tall. Introverts have lots to say and now, more than ever, others want to hear our perspective. And we want to get our voice into the room, unapologetically.
I have a growing disdain for obligatory words like MUST, NEED, SHOULD. They clearly are saying we must do something, whether we want to or have an interest in that or not. Why? Who says we must do that? We all have certain basic responsibilities, but these words are often attached to societal norms: "We MUST go to the party because everyone is going."
If we truly feel we MUST instead of WANT to do something, this should spark some reflection. It sounds like that task, party, job, or relationship may no longer be enjoyable. A change may be in order. How great it is to bring more passion, fun, smiles, and strength into our lives, replacing obligations, burdens, and dread.
As I reflect on my coach's prompt to write more colloquially, I realize why it's so challenging. After all, we all grew up speaking casually with family and friends as toddlers and teens. But then we were subjected to high school and college essays stressing form and vocabulary. Afterward, many enter the work world where corporate lingo, acronyms, and complex phrases are wrapped in business proposals and presentations.
It's no one's fault. That's the culture we have joined. It represents another mask we have donned to fit in with others years ago. But life beyond work begs us to tone it down, to be ourselves. We may find we become more relaxed and relatable in the process.
Now I challenge each of you to shed that thick outer layer of your vocabulary and life, live confidently in the WANT, and do not apologize for the ask!
Invite your strengths to shine through with your words.
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Haunting. Current. Tragic. Stirring. Reflective.
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