Blog Post: Watch Your Words

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Kilgrave is one of the best villains on TV.  As the main bad guy in the first season of Jessica Jones, he’s a formidable foe because he has the power to control people with his words.  If he says, “Jump out the window” another character will leap through a 20-story window to his death.  Talk about mind control!

You have a similar superpower.  Hopefully you’re not a sociopath who harms people with your words, but you can perform mind control.

While your words have influence over other people, the main person you control with your words is the one who looks back at you in the mirror.  Here’s a simple yet powerful truth: the things you say to yourself hugely influence what you believe and what you do.

What are the messages you speak to yourself?  Which ones cause you harm?  Which ones create positive results?

Here are some common messages that speak harm:

  • I’m a victim. This one is so insidious because it usually carries a kernel of truth (someone did hurt you), but it also reduces a person’s agency and keeps them trapped.
  • They’re a victim. This message reduces our expectations of others way too much.  It restricts what we think is possible for them and answers “No” on their behalf before ever asking them the question.
  • The present is permanent. When you tell yourself that things, people, circumstances are fixed, it becomes illogical to try to create change.
  • I’m fine the way I am. This particular way of soothing yourself creates short-term comfort at the cost of long-term growth and gain.  Especially in faith circles, this message can twist a truth (God loves me just the way I am) into a prison of lethargy and stuck-ness.
  • There is something wrong with me. Believing you have a deep, unchanging flaw creates severe limits on what you think possible.  Why even try if you’re too flawed to fly?
  • I’m special. This belief will keep you blaming others and wondering why the clouds didn’t part for you.

As coaches, we practice active listening by which we really tune in to what someone is saying AND what they are saying beneath the words they’re speaking.  When we truly focus on our client, we can often hear unkind messages being broadcast in the background.

Recently I had a client frustrated with an employee who had offended him.  I listened carefully.  He repeatedly mentioned disrespect.  He described the offending employee condescendingly (“And then junior decides to backtalk me!”).  His emotions amplified his words.

After listening to my client vent for a few minutes, I offered, “What makes you think he should have treated you better?”  My client was somewhat taken aback.  He replied, “He should treat me with respect because I am his boss.  He should know better!”

My client was under the influence of one of the worst messages: “Other people should read my mind.”  He slowly recognized this as I asked him about his instruction, feedback, and responses to the employee.  It turns out my client had been offended several times and hadn’t said or done anything.  Each time he expected his employee to “just know” what to do.  The fact the employee didn’t do what the employee should know to do wasn’t evidence to my client that the employee actually didn’t know what to do.  Instead, it was evidence that the employee was a disrespectful jerk.

As coaches, it’s our job to help our clients uncover the background messages that inform their perception, thinking, and actions.  That said, it’s not our job to diagnose.  They are the ones who must discover the message; we are here to facilitate the discovery, not convince them of what we think we see.

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