Moderating your language can create greater effect when you manage people
There’s a bit in me that, sometimes, on rare occasion, when someone else tells me that I have to do something, that little bit comes whispering in my ear and says, “Oh yeah? Can’t make me.” This has happened less often as I’ve learned to handle the world a little more flexibly, and I’m sure that few out there reading this right now ever have the same effect, but there are people who seem to have learned this as their initial strategy for handling any disagreement.
Obviously, that can get in the way of a cooperative employee/employer relationship, and, on the part of a manager who runs into this, I can totally get the impatience he or she might feel. Some questions, some requests, some commands are harder to get compliance with than others, and this is where learning a little verbal trick can help smooth that process. The trick is called “softeners,” and using them in your language can help make it easier for people to tell you things, for them to follow commands, or even ot help with hypnosis.
So what am I talking about with them? Some are obvious. It’s one thing to say, “Put your feet on the floor.” It’s simple and straightforward, but it’s kind of blunt. Your old manners training can soften that a bit: “could you put your feet on the floor?” is smoother, more polite. It’s softer. Making it a question with “would you,” “could you,” or “can you” makes it seem gentler, just a touch more indirect. After all, I didn’t TELL you to do it, I merely asked if you could. Then, you putting your feet on the floor happens to be a choice on your part, rather than obedience to an order. That’s a lot nicer, isn’t it?
There have been times I’ve been tempted to ask someone, “What the heck were you THINKING with that?” Saying it that way is only going to increase tension between you by increasing defensiveness. You can add a tag on the beginning that turns your request into merely a commentary: “I wonder what made that seem like a good idea at the time,” is still a little direct, but you’re no longer asking them directly. Now you’re merely commenting on your own thoughts. The phrase, “I’m curious” has the same effect. “I’m curious what has gotten in the way of you completing this project on time,” while still addressing an obvious problem, is just a touch more roundabout.
A third way to soften language is to add in modifiers like possibly, might, perhaps, maybe, and such. “Maybe you could tell me what got you two to fighting while we walk this way down the hall,” might help you redirect an otherwise heated moment.
So, I can’t help but wonder, perhaps, if you could find some ways to add in a few language softeners when making requests or asking questions. Maybe you would enjoy the results of making your language a little more indirect sometimes. Or not. It’s entirely up to you now, isn’t it.