Language Creates the Future – Part 1

By Karen Carnahan & Marsia Gunter

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What if we were to tell you that the words that you think and speak have far more power than you may have realized? What if the language you have used throughout your whole life has directly driven your ups and downs? What if, simply by changing how you use language, you could completely change your trajectory?

The Language of Barely Enough

John called us in to assist his multi-million dollar manufacturing business to develop a strategic plan. Over the last five years the company's growth cycle had flattened out and was now running at break-even.

In discussions with John and his key staff members about the financial status of the business, we heard the same kinds of comments occurring again and again:

  • “If we can just make enough to pay our bills. . .”
  • “If we can just get by one more month. . . .”
  • “We just don't bring in enough money. . . .”
  • “The market's just not large enough. . . .”
  • “There just isn't enough... money, time, etc.”

One implicit theme permeated the conversations: “No matter what we do, it won't make a difference. All we can do is just get by.”

Creating a Future We Don't Want to Live

If these were the messages always in the background of your consciousness, how hard would you feel like trying? How much energy would you have for thinking innovatively? How much enthusiasm would you have for going all out and attempting something different, something new?

Not surprisingly, John and his staff weren't really doing much to try and improve the company's position beyond break-even. They believed what they were saying, and it took away the hope that drives enthusiasm and initiative. They didn't do it on purpose. They didn't really want the company to fail. But they were beginning to make it inevitable. Their conversations, their language, had become an immutable truth to them, something solid as a rock - and it was hanging around their necks and dragging them down. They were creating their future through their language.

How Language Creates Their Future

As business owners and team members, our language is one of the most important tools we have. Everything in business is language-based. Language is the medium we do business in—we speak, we listen, we write. It is through language that our reality is created, that things are created. Through language, businesses are created. Somebody said , let's do it, and we do it. Speaking and listening is how new products are born, how we went to the moon, and how we go broke.

We are sloppy in our use of language. We forget that what we say, and even further back than that, what we think, is like a filter; it influences our actions and the actions of others. Our words create pictures for ourselves and other people, and those pictures are what we work from. Our language sets a course of action, either intentionally or without thought. In fact, language can be thought of as verbal action. Whether that action is productive or counter-productive depends very much on the language we use.

Language That Does Not Serve

  • Why?

  • I'll try.
  • Maybe.
  • Perhaps.
  • If only.
  • Why didn't we?
  • It shouldn't be.
  • We should have.
  • Whose fault was it?

Any of these phrases sound familiar? They should - most of us use many of them much of the time. We like them. They give us plenty of room for copping out, for not fulfilling what was promised, for not doing what needs to be done. How productive are they?

When something that's gone astray and needs to be realigned, how helpful is it to say, “If only you had done such-and-such in the first place.” Does such a comment really advance the action? Is it blowing off steam, or are we indulging ourselves and wasting valuable time?

How productive is it to respond to a customer with “We'll try to solve your problem”? Like Yoda, the master teacher in George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy, the customer doesn't want us to try to do something. He wants us to do it. Or how about “I think we can take care of you”? Sounding tentative doesn't help the customer at all—can you do it or can't you? Whatever the outcome, it doesn't serve any useful purpose to introduce a note of possible failure before you even start!

Sometimes It’s Not Always Easy to See

Of course, language can be like the water that a fish swims in. It can be hard to see the water when you’ve been swimming in it your entire life. So where do you start? How can you begin to both see the language you are using and also change it to make it work for you?

In part two of our discussion of how language creates the future, we’ll discuss a great place to start changing our language, which ultimately comes from changing how we think.

Are you interested in changing your trajectory and taking a more active role in shaping the future for yourself, your company or your organization? Explore the future you want to create through ongoing coaching to develop business growth strategies, professional leadership development and business ownership, and transitioning your business for the next generation. We believe in the future you envision, and stand with you to help achieve it. 



Marsia Gunter