Communication is my passion and is the backbone of all the work I do. Whether I am doing an addiction intervention, working with parents and children, employees looking to advance, managers leading teams, or couples learning to talk to each other one of the first things we cover is negative words.

Most of us aren’t aware that a simple word in conversation can completely change the trajectory of the conversation and create an entirely different outcome. A single word! That’s a lot of power, and if we don’t know how to do it well, many of our relationships can suffer.

Some of the biggest offenders:  should, must, need to-  try, maybe, perhaps-  and always, never, constantly.

Let’s break these down.  Should is a word, when used incorrectly, that implies lack or insufficiency. “You should do…”, “What you should have done is…”, these statements tell the person you are talking to that they aren’t good enough. What you did, how you did it, what you said was insufficient, you should have done it or said it this way…  No one wants another person to tell them they are not good enough or that what they did is not good enough. Take this one out of your vocabulary. “Need to” is the same situation.

“Must” can feel like you are ordering someone around. There are not many people that like to be told what to do. “You must try harder”, “You must do better”, “You must…” no, no, and no.

Try, Maybe, Perhaps- all of these words communicate indecision, uncertainty, and lack of commitment. If you want to meet me at 3 and I am uncertain I can make it by 3, instead of saying “I’ll try”, I would rather say “I can be there at 3:30.” Communicate, be certain, don’t confuse people or create unrealistic expectations.

Always, Never, Constantly- yikes. These are words that infer an absolute. There is no room for exceptions. “You are always late”, “You never like my cooking”, “You are constantly texting”. Even if these things are true a majority of the time, there really is no such thing as an absolute for humans. It would be nice to allow one another some wiggle room and a little margin for human error.

Negative words cause our defenses to go up immediately and oftentimes create resentment. No one wants to try to communicate with someone who has this sense of superiority as though they never make a mistake or they know everything. Think about ways to rephrase things so they are open and non-blaming. It opens a dialogue for all people involved and will get a very different result!


Want tips on rephrasing? Email me at [email protected]!