If the intention is to silence and reduce somebody to a sullen, then go on always say you ‘never' do it!
It was one of those rare moments when I snapped at my eight year old son Agastya. I raved and ranted, and raved and ranted, the poor chap did not know what hit him. What seemed like a minor skirmish between father and son for an unknown reason was bubbling and threatening to engulf the whole household.
All Agastya said was “Appa, you are always troubling me!” I yelled back “always” Agastya… he turned his nose, turned a defiant gaze and said “yes , always, always” that was the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back that turned a minor skirmish into a deluge threatening to drag three generations of the family into sullen silence for the rest of the evening. The words that tipped me over were “You NEVER support me and are always troubling me.”
As always happens in hindsight, the force of the reaction seemed totally inappropriate and unnecessary. But always and never were like red rags to a raging bull for me.
‘Always’ means without exception and ‘never’ meant never! I remember early in our relationship when my wife said this in a fit of anger, it upset me no end. Looks like it continues to be a red rag and seems so based on some solid research around the water cooler. To spouse and children, were added a roster of relationships from mother-in-law to the ubiquitous boss. These words sparked off an intense debate threatening to extend our breaks and break our schedule.
So here we go on some of the effects and ways to manage the impact of always, never and other such powerful words.
Let us look at some always and never statements at the workplace and how they sound.
(May I suggest you close your eyes and imagine your boss, spouse or colleague say this to you)
You always say no.
You never turn up on time.
You always miss your deadlines.
You never put things back.
Now stop gritting your teeth and read on for more of always, never gyan.
‘Never’ and ‘always’ have a definitive - no point trying ring. I believe it makes the recipient believe they have no hope! Even for most of us for whom, English is our second or third language, the definitiveness of ‘always’ and ‘never’ gets through our vernacular head and leaves us with no second chances!
Is there a way to get out of this trap? Yes there is; what if we replaced this with specifics. Now close your eyes and repeat the same exercise but with the sentences below:
“I notice you have said ‘no’ twice in the past to extra work.”
“You seem to be turning up late last few weeks.”
Or in Agastya’s case “you have been troubling me the last two days.”
Suddenly, this encourages conversation, maybe even a debate but you are talking and that is a good sign. If the intention is to silence and reduce somebody to a sullen, then go on, always say you ‘never’ do it!
However, if the intention is to encourage a conversation and remedy the situation go on and try the second approach. Be prepared for a healthy debate. In personal and professional lives this will generate healthy conversations and build a positive environment.
Wow! Just when I heaved a sigh of relief and ready to beam a contented smile, ‘always’ and ‘never’ made another appearance in a double role in a positive avatar! Like a Bollywood hero with no camera effects.
“Appa will you always support me, even if I do something wrong”. This was a big ask and I had to pause and think before I responded. Eventually after some caveats, I of course said yes, only to be asked another probe… “You are not just saying it no appa.” This time the response was quick, “I would never say just for the sake of it”. Ooh ‘always’ and ‘never’ in a positive avatar.
I guess these are indeed powerful words, when you want to be that rock that people can turn to. ‘Always’ and ‘never’ come in handy to build that edifice of trust and comfort.
Having learnt this from my little guru, I used this effectively in an extended team meeting while exhorting the team to start taking decisions and not push it up or play ‘cya’ (cover your....)
“I will always support your decision as long you take a decision and there is no ethical violation.”
“I will never question you on why you took the decision.” This is a commitment. With the stress on always and never, I thought the message got through.
Now, as always in these commitments, it is reality that matters. We have to live up to what we say! If we don’t, people will never again believe us! (yeah never)
Words are powerful when used well in the right places with the right intonation. They don’t have to be fancy, unprounceable(sic) archaic words. It is these simple words that make the impact. It will go a long way in building culture, commitment and engagement.
Next time you are having a discussion, providing feedback, addressing a group or just chatting, watch for those impactful words.
I would love to hear from you on other words that have an impact. Negative or positive keep them rolling and remember to always leave a comment!
And NEVER say you don’t know.