Three Words That Will Change Your Life

if you never use them again!

Are you still looking for a simple, yet powerful way to make a positive change this coming year? How about taking a look at the words you use? Some words are more powerful than others. They mean more than just their definition. They convey deeper intentions that can have a profound impact on communication. Here are three simple words that most of us use many times a day that can lead to misunderstanding, resentment, morale problems, and other unintended consequences. For each of these words there is a better alternative that will improve your communication and build trust in relationships. 

What are these words?


“What you need to understand is…”

“I need you to stop sending me those e-mails.”

“We need to improve our sales numbers.”

Do these phrases inspire you to perform better? If your response is less than enthusiastic, or if you want to spout off some colorful comeback, you are not alone. Each of these phrases contains the word “need.” Whether we are conscious of it or not, the word “need” often invites negative reactions and mis-communication.

The word ʻneedʼ is a conditional statement, an expectation that implies someone’s worth is dependent on you getting what you want without asking for it. The statement “You need to finish this report by noon,” implies that if you donʼt, there will be a consequence. When I say, “I need you to stop sending me e-mails,” what I am really saying is I will not be satisfied until you stop sending e-mails. “What you need to understand” is another way of saying thereʼs something wrong with you if you donʼt see it my way. Need plays off feelings of guilt, resentment, and disappointment.

No-oneʼs self-worth is conditional on anotherʼs behavior. Using ʻneedʼ in this way is emotional high-jacking.

Need also confuses the message by avoiding an actual request. “I need 50 copies of the minutes” is a passive statement. “Would you please make 50 copies of the minutes?” is an authentic request and clearly states the desired outcome. It is assertive and it opens up clear communication.

An alternative to need is WILL or WANT

Stop expecting to get what you want without asking for it. Identify what you really want from yourself and others. Then ask for it. When my daughter goes on a date with her boyfriend I don’t say, “You need to be home by midnight.” Instead I say, “I want you to be home by midnight and let’s figure out how to make sure this happens.” By avoiding the word need, I own what I want and engage in shared responsibility to achieve the desired outcome. 

Will you finish the report by noon?”

Will you listen until I am done?”

Will you continue reading this blog?”


A second word that sends communication into a downward spiral is ‘but.’ How often have you heard something like,

“Great work on that project, but you missed something.”

“The training was great, but we didn’t have long enough breaks.”

“Which part of this statement has the most impact? Will you even remember the positives that came before the but? In most cases the word ‘but’ suggests imperfection, adds a competitive element, and implies that the compliment was not genuine or relevant. If your intention is to add a positive to counter the negative, using “but” is an ineffective choice.  

An alternative to but is AND

Replace ‘but’ with ‘and,’ which changes most sentences from conditional and competitive to complimentary. For example, “Great work on that project, and here are two suggestions to make it even better.” This way, suggestions for improvement can be given without discounting the existing accomplishment. Or, if you really want to challenge yourself, try offering a stand-alone compliment, no strings attached. If this is difficult for you, it’s time to hold a mirror up to your true intentions. Is your goal to add value, or find the exception?

“This was really well written, and could be taken to the next level by focusing on these two areas.”

“Your proposal was very thorough, and I think we can implement it in a few years.” 


The third word to avoid is see.

See, I told you so.”

See, if you would have listened to me in the beginning…”

When used as self-justification the word ‘see’ says nothing more than “I was right, you were wrong.”

One of the strongest human desires is to feel justified, and we will go to great lengths to feel as though we were right, even if it is not the most effective strategy. Sentences that begin with ‘see’ usually set up a win-lose situation and invite defensiveness.

An alternative to see is to eliminate it

I recommend eliminating it altogether. Stop trying to prove you are right. One exception might be, “See Spot run.”

There you have it; three simple words that will change your life if you eliminate them. At first it will require diligence and creativity to find alternative ways of communicating, and it will feel awkward because down deep you will have to change your attitude about yourself and others to be successful. Most people who have successfully changed these habits have done so by asking others to help them recognize when they are doing it and correct it.

Change your language, change your life.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2017

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5 Comments. Leave new

  • I have noticed many politicians using the word “Look, yada yada yada…”

    How is that related to “see,” good or bad?

    • Sue Ann, great point and thanks for posting a comment. It’s funny how people who you’d expect to be articulate and practiced at good speaking will use such language. Yada, yada, yada is popular now. I think it reflects either laziness in explaining what you are talking about, or dismissing another person’s ideas. I’ve noticed that among highly educated people, academics, and some of the NPR reporters, they use the phrase “sort of” a lot.

    • The same goes for bla,bla,bla.

  • Pam Brillhart
    January 11, 2017 8:54 am

    I’ve tried to be aware that using these three words can be changed to more positive words. I don’t know how many times I’ve been given a compliment and then wait for the BUT because it always seems to come. You are right, I never focus on the compliment because I’m too alert to the negative. I was listening to a recording of myself at a meeting recently and heard the word “so” many times! I would like to replace that word or quit using it altogether! Thanks, Nate for your continuing good “words of wisdom”!

    • Pam, thanks so much for sharing. I have been noticing the word “So” a lot lately. A friend of mine and I love to joke about how you can start any sentence with “Soooo….” and it changes everything.


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