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Verbal Accuracy

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Verbal Accuracy
(click for podcast) (6:57 min.)

The specificity of words and the ambiguity of words are both the joy and bane of our conversations. Wordplay depends on words having shades of meaning, or multiple meanings, that we can take down a surprise road, whipping our heads around as if we’re on an amusement park ride. Unfortunately, they’re also the potential fork in the road when we’re trying to talk with each other. With every split, we can find ourselves knee deep in conflict before we know what happened.



I’ve seen so many interactions that went far too deeply into this kind of conflict, far too quickly. The problem isn’t the conflict itself (when it’s real conflict, and you can process it, the learning outweighs the discomfort.) The problem is when the conflict is between entities who aren’t even in the room, and the issues aren’t directly related to what’s actually going on in the here and now.


We all have issues that are often highlighted in language as “hot buttons” or “triggers.” These are the words or phrases that hit the play button on our internal recording devices, and the file just starts running. We’re no longer really part of the process; we’re in auto-pilot. Inevitably, our defensive salvo will hit the other person’s trigger, and their recording device will go into auto-pilot as well. Now neither of us are present, neither of us are in dialogue, and we’re reduced to dueling reactions.


Imagine that you’re challenged to communicate with someone in a darkened room, not allowed to speak, and the only tool you have is a stick. Most likely outcome? You’re each going to be poking each other, not communicating, and probably getting a bit ticked off as well.

It’s almost a miracle that we communicate as well as we do most of the time, considering how diverse our definitions of words can be. As an exercise, I’ve asked workshop/seminar attendees and even Boards of Directors to think about a dog in their heads. Then we go around the room and describe the dog each of us imagined. Of course we thought of everything from a snarling Rottweiler to a happy Cocker Spaniel. We’re only talking about a three-letter noun; dog. Imagine when we get into abstracts, such as integrity or success?! Awareness around this inevitably improves the communication that follows.


Let’s say I want you to be more open with me about your needs, and say, “you need to be more honest with me.” Honesty is a hot button for you, and you hear, “you’ve been lying to me.” Now you go off into defending that you haven’t been lying, and “how dare I accuse you of something like that!” Now I go into damage control mode because I never meant to call you a liar. We’re off and running on an argument that has nothing to do with the original intent. If I had been more precise with my words about you being “open about your needs” rather than the subtle language shift of absent-mindedly choosing the word “honesty,” we could have actually had a conversation.


Let’s say a customer complains about an order not being what he asked for. The written work order shows that you didn’t make an error, but he definitely didn’t get what he actually needs. If you say you can “correct” the order, you’ve just told the customer that you made a mistake, eve if you actually didn't. That might set a precedent in their mind that you make mistakes. If you say you can “adjust” the order so that it meets his needs, you make points for responsiveness, without shooting yourself in the foot. Do you see how subtle the word choice is, and how vast the results can be?


Think about your most recent verbal conflict with someone. When did you feel your button(s) being pushed? Was it the words? Can you remember exactly where the train went off the track?


Think about the earliest instance you can remember having this same kind of conflict. Who was it with? Can you remember the words? Can you identify and recognize your own “hot buttons” or triggers? Once identified, these triggers will begin to lose their potency, as you see them in a larger context.


Check in with the person with whom you’re having the conflict. Let them know that you are reacting to the word or phrase they used, (not them) and you need to get more clarification. Did they mean “honest” or “open?” Did they mean “manipulative” or “persuasive? Did they mean “it’s terrible,” or “I personally didn’t care for it?”



The more we check in and clarify what people really mean, the more we’ll understand where the landmines are buried, and the easier it will be to traverse the conversational landscape without the explosions.

Want to learn more about how to become the best you possible? How your communication can hold you back or catapult you forward? Come visit the web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.

     - Ian J. Blei


May Offer -

Verbal Accuracy in our internal self-talk can change our lives. "The Essential 10 Minutes™" is a practice my clients use to sharpen this skill and build a sense of Self that stands up to the "noise" of others and our own internalized critics, and makes us "non-stick." It's included in the Dynamic Exploration Session.

I'm offering 3 complimentary sessions ("how do I do this?") to the first 3 people (who haven't already worked with me) who email me this month's secret word: "Specificity"

Grab a spot on the calendar, and don't worry about the 30 minute limit; I'll automatically extend it to an hour.


He combines his extensive knowledge of integral theory, the Enneagram, and neuroscience, in a seamless way (truly a Grand Unifying Theory of Everything), and helps you apply this greater understanding to whatever matters to you. He helps you build the trellis which you can hang any flower on that you choose.." - P.R., - S.F.

Each session is normally a $285.00 value, and will be worth much more to you in life-changing ways.  Good luck! Click to Schedule.


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