#264 from Innovative Leader Volume 6, Number 3          March 1997

Language Subtleties Influence Your Management Abilities
by J. Mitchell Perry, ED.D.

Dr. Perry, an organizational psychologist, is president of JM Perry Corporation in Palo Alto, California (phone 800-358-2082, email info@jmperry.com, www.jmperry.com/).  He has written over 50 articles on management, leadership and team performance, and is co-author of The Road to Optimism—Change Your Language…Change Your Life (Manfit Press, San Ramon, CA, 1997).

How we say something is just as important as what we say.  Managers can better communicate by an inclusive rather than exclusive manner.  By inclusive, I mean the mental state of optimism; while exclusive is pessimism.  You can change the way you say things so they come out inclusive, positive.  When you convey an optimistic attitude, you gain more control over yourself and get more from your staff and co-workers.  I’d like to make this point by using several areas that managers routinely deal with.


We are always evaluating and making judgments.  Mostly, we’re unknowingly making evaluations in exclusion.  Here are some examples:

·  "Not as bad as I thought."

·  "I don't have a problem with that."

·  "I don't see any reason why we couldn't do it."

·  "It certainly wouldn't be out of the question."

Instead of saying that it "wouldn't be out of the question," you might say, "I certainly would consider it."  Instead of saying, "It wasn't as bad as I thought," you might say, "It was actually better than I thought."  This change affects your feelings, which affects your thoughts and your influence on the listener.

When you evaluate something, you're making judgment calls.  The likelihood that you will feel pessimistic about an idea because of your speaking in exclusion is very high.  You're much more likely to be optimistic and to move forward when you're speaking in inclusion.  So instead of saying, "Not bad," say, "That's good."

Exclusion Examples                                  Inclusion Examples

I can't argue with that.                               I'm inclined to agree with that.

I can't complain.                                       I think it's okay.

I'm not ignoring that.                                 I'm aware that's a consideration.

If nothing gets in our way.                         If everything goes as planned.


Suppose someone says to you, "Thanks so much.  I really appreciate everything you did."  Often you say, "No problem.  It was nothing, nothing at all."  The first impulse I have when someone says, "no problem," is to say, "Wait a second, you mean there would have been a problem?"

Often in giving appreciation, you will try to give it by saying, "I really don't know how to thank you," or "I really don't know how to express my thanks."  This can give you the feeling of a deficit or inadequacy.  "I really don't know how to thank you," could be changed to "It's so difficult for me to figure out a way to properly thank you."  In either receiving appreciation or giving it, it is to your advantage to speak in present and positive terms.  It does good things for you and for the other person.


Here are some examples of inclusionary promotional advertising:

·  Citicorp:  "Citicorp, because America wants to succeed, not just survive."

·  MCI:  "If not us, who?  If not now, when?"

·  Pirelli Tires:  "Power is nothing without control."

·  Paul Mason Wines:  "We will sell no wine before its time."

·  Vidal Sassoon:  "If you don't look good, we don't look good."

·  American Express:  "Don't leave home without it."

These ads are promoting these products in an exclusionary fashion.  Every day, you’re promoting something, whether it be yourself, a program or an attitude.  The point is to be aware that we are surrounded by various types of language.  If you are to keep control of your own optimism, it is best to limit negative or exclusionary language.


It seems that everywhere we turn, we’re told not to do something.  It's as if we were kids again and constantly being watched for our own safety.  Whenever you see a sign posted, it almost always tells you what you are not able to do.  Suppose you were to rewrite the signs so they gave their instructions in inclusion as opposed to exclusion.  What might they  say?

·  Instead of saying, "No Smoking," you could say, "Smoke Free Area."

·  Instead of saying, "No Eating in This Room," you could say, "Eating Prohibited in This Room."

·  Instead of saying, "No Entrance," you could say, "Entrance Prohibited."

·  Instead of "No Littering," you could say "Keep this area clean."

It's clear to me that we should have a lot more signs telling us what’s acceptable or what is unacceptable in a language of inclusion.  This creates an entirely different feeling, and a greater likelihood that we would want to obey the recommendation.


This is one of my favorite categories because when you really understand how to position your persuasion methods in inclusion, you’ll have so much more horsepower when it comes to influencing people.

In many business relationships, co-workers attempt to persuade each other with some form of "why don't you" or "why don't we."

·  "Why don't we get together on Monday?"

·  "Why don't we stop doing this?"

·  "Why don't I send that to you?"

·  "Why don't I bring the contract over?"

If you and your co-worker are deciding where to eat, and one of you says, "Why don't we go to Rudy's?"  The other's first unconscious impulse is to begin to answer the question, "Well, there are three reasons why we don't go to Rudy's.  One, I don't want to drive that far; two, I don't really like the food at Rudy's; and three, it's too expensive."

What's interesting is that when you ask somebody, "Why don't we/you?," the receiver frequently resists with some form of a "No."  However, if you were to change the question from exclusion to inclusion, from "why don't you/we" to "How about," or "Let's," the ambivalent person is much more likely to be persuaded.

Though it can be annoying, one of the ways in which I encourage people around me to become aware of their tendency to use the "Why don't" phrase is to answer the question specifically.  If someone says, "Why don't we get together on Monday?", then I might say, "Well, as I think about it, there might be three reasons why we don't get together on Monday."  Only after that will they be aware of their tendency to use "Why don't you/we."  The sheer change from exclusion to inclusion, from "Why don't we?" to "Let's" or "How about", makes wholesale changes in the way in which the sender feels about the remark and how the receiver accepts it.  Here are some additional suggestions:

·  Instead of saying, "Why don't you call me on Monday?", say, "How about you call me on         Monday?"

·  Instead of saying, "Why don't you get me the report?", say, "How about getting the report?"

·  Instead of saying, "Why don't you quit worrying?", say, "What are your thoughts about the problem?"

You're going to get much more persuasive strength when you use, "What are your thoughts," "How about," or "Let's," in trying to get other people to sign up to your suggestions.


Motivation is linked to language.  This makes it a very good area in which to apply language skills.  Your language can make a huge difference when you want to impact your own motivation as well as the motivation of those around you.

Some people are motivated by going toward a goal or an objective if they see benefits.  This means that when they decide to take action or commit their resources, they do so because they are interested in the benefits.  They are "going toward" oriented, going toward the pleasure, toward the benefit.  They do something in the interest of the payoff they’ll get.

There are also people who are very "going away" oriented.  In making decisions, their motivation is simply to avoid risk and minimize pain.  They are reluctant to make quick decisions of any kind.  They're always hedging their bets, covering their backsides, and they are continually second-guessing, wary of decisions of any kind.  Going away from pain is a much more powerful motivator to them than going toward pleasure.  If you try to persuade them by explaining the benefits of a course of action, they will almost always resist you, because they are interested only in minimizing risk instead of maximizing benefits.  These people generally are more afraid and negative.  They tend to be more pessimistic in their thinking and likely exclusion-oriented in dialogue.

I believe that most people prefer to think of themselves as "going toward" when it comes to their motivation.  However, it's clear that it's very difficult to be a "going toward" person if you're always speaking in the language of "don't, never, and can't."

You might be quite pleased to see how your outlook changes when you speak in inclusion.  You might even slowly watch your motivation change from a going away perspective to one that goes toward your objectives.

“Going toward" is definitely preferable as a motivator.  So to increase this likelihood, speak in terms of "yes, always, and can."  Then watch the gradual transformation of yourself and those around you from "going away" to "going toward."  Your motivation will have a healthier and powerful feel.

This conversion from exclusion to inclusion will require some practice.  As with all new learning, it will seem out-of-place and artificial at first. I encourage you to avoid becoming fanatical and fearful of every word you plan to utter.  But focus on the good stuff, the choices you can make in your words that will lead to uplifting results that you desire.

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