Language Baggage

Jan. 29th, 2018

One of the many, many things I learned during coach training at ADDCA was how some clients may have a negative relationship with certain commonplace words. So even though we used the word “homework” commonly during classes, we needed to be aware that we were likely to work with people for whom that word was a hindrance rather than a help. I’ve found this to be very accurate and have done my best to be creative with language, so as to support my clients.

This phenomenon is not limited to “homework”, however. I’ve also encountered people with aversions to “goal” and “accountability” as well. It isn’t even that the concept of knowing what we are working toward (goal) or being motivated by a coach asking how we did on a task (accountability) are unhelpful (though for some people it very well might be). It is strictly the word.

When considering some alternate language or a different word for something, it can be helpful to examine where the aversion stems from. A client of mine suggested “fun work” as a more positive alternative to homework, and I loved the idea. For someone else, though, the word “work” might be the problem. I’ll often switch to “action step”, which might come off as slightly euphemistic or like jargon, but to me, it implies movement, which I like. However, someone else might be seriously turned off by it.

“Goal” is a word that just rolls off my tongue because I have no reason to fear it. There can be some serious baggage around it, though, and I try to be respectful of that baggage. “Aim” can be a good alternative word. I’ll often use “quest” with my geeky clients. Even though I personally have no problem with “goal”, I’d far rather be on a “quest”. It has such a positive implication of adventure, excitement, and treasure, to me. What is your quest for July? I have a couple dragons I’m gonna slay.

The bottom line is if any part of our efforts to move forward, toward some things or away from others, is unhelpful, it is vitally important to assess whether anything can be done to reduce that negative impact. Language holds immense power. Recognizing that and committing to using language that motivates us rather than frightens us is a great way to make everything easier.

What words could you change, to have a better relationship with the concept behind them?