WRITTEN BY Jennifer Pickerel ON October 11, 2018

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Say what you mean and mean what you say…

We all know the adage, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” which is true more often than not. I would also assert that your words have more meaning than you realize.

I was a college English major and imagined that, by this time in my life, I’d be teaching college courses for a living. The aviation industry grabbed me early on, however, and it didn’t let go.

Despite the fact that I’m not a professor, I’ve retained my love of language. That said, in a world of abbreviations, text messages, emails and Twitter, I thought we could all use a reminder about the impact of our words.


Keeping it Real

I’ve often heard candidates preparing to write their autobiography or getting ready for an interview say, “I’m not the best writer,” or “I don’t have a fancy vocabulary.” I’m here to tell you, anyone can make an impact on paper or in person. It’s a matter of phraseology.

Simply knowing your audience and pushing yourself to use words that aren’t top of mind can change the way you feel about how well you’re communicating and being perceived. Consider for a moment how many times you might have been in a meeting, listening to a colleague, and thought, “I wish I came across like that.”

I’d venture to guess your colleague wasn’t using complicated sentence structures. I suspect he or she was succinct, and chose words that reflected exactly what they were trying to convey. Let’s not forget that less is often more, and being direct and to the point earns respect from managers and peers alike.

The next time you speak with a group, large or small, in a professional arena, prepare by jotting down (in bullets) what you’d like to convey. Doing so will help you avoid reading sentences verbatim, which often makes you sound rote and may prevent you from having an authentic exchange with your audience.

Being prepared will also force you to think as you present. It will push you to be more familiar and comfortable talking “off the cuff” about whatever it is you’re presenting. If we free ourselves from reciting fully written sentences, we’re bound to be more engaging with our audience.


Words Matter!

As you prepare your bullets, keep the following word choice examples in mind and really think about your phraseology. Remember: “saying what you mean” is about consistency between one’s thoughts and words. It’s a plea to be honest, to truthfully represent your understanding or intent when you describe something verbally.

On the other hand, “meaning what you say” is usually about consistency between one’s words and their behavior or actions.

Following are three examples off the top of my head that show how an alternative word choice can make a big difference in how you’re perceived:

  • In a recent meeting, I referred to something as being “old school.” Afterwards, I realized a better choice of words would have been “antiquated” or “out of date.”
  • When you notice that something is inexpensive, the word “affordable” has a better connotation than “cheap,” which carries the possibility of an insult.
  • If you’re presenting a monetary bonus to an employee, it’s preferred to say that they’ve “earned” it; not that it was “given” to them.

For even more ways to speak directly or convincingly, check out the terrific “Plain English Campaign” website. It offers an array of alternative words and phrases to replace those that might seem a little stuffy or indirect.


Win Friends and Influence People

I hope this post serves as a reminder that words still matter in our professional and personal culture. Taking the time to find the right, diplomatic word or phrase can make all the difference in how effective a communicator you are.

Remember: it’s not the complex, long-winded sentences that will help rally others to your cause. Rather it’s the simple, knowledgeable “plain speak” that can help—as Dale Carnegie once enlightened us—to “win friends and influence people.”

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