On most of our courses we consider the power of non-verbal communication in some form. And there is no doubt that non-verbal communication is very powerful.

But words also have power.

Substituting one word for another can be the difference between success and failure in your communication with others…

…or in internal communication – speaking to yourself. Those inner voices that can motivate or de-motivate you.

Some Examples

Let’s take a look at some examples that might help to explain what I mean, and to show how simple it can be to change the impact of your communication on yourself and others:

Want or Need?

When I’m coaching I often point out the difference in mental state generated by saying to yourself “I want to…” rather than “I need to…”

If you’re trying to motivate yourself to do something “I want to” can be far more powerful than “I need to” – which often sounds like beating yourself up!

Could or should?

Or the difference between “I should…” and “I could…” to yourself, or “You should…” or “You could…” to others.

” You should write a book ” may be interpreted as putting pressure on, whereas “You could write a book” suggests a choice. And there is often less resistance to a choice.

Cultural / linguistic patterns can have an impact too. In my family, “you should” is used to frame a suggestion, but it’s not interpreted like that outside the family. It took me a while to realise that people thought I was giving them orders when my intention was to offer ideas.

A request or a command?

As simple change of words can alter the assertiveness of a sentence. Think about the difference in assertiveness between “I want you to…” and “I would like you to…”. The former is likely to be interpreted as a request. The latter seems to allow more room for negotiation.

Creative words

When using coaching in the workplace to help develop people I like to use ‘If…” because it opens up a different bit of the brain – a more creative bit.


“If we wanted to finish this today, how might we go about it?”


“We need to get this done today”

I like the word “Imagine” for the same reason – it encourages us to use the creative bit of the brain and come up with novel solutions to problems.

Emotive words

Some words trigger defensiveness in others before the sentence is even finished; Words like ‘always’ or ‘never’ – generalisations.

Or words that have negative connotations – some people will react to words like ‘controlling’ but be ok with ‘organising’. It can be very personal.

And one tiny word can lead to a very big argument!

No one way is right or wrong.

It’s just that it might be worth occasionally considering the power of words, and the impact a particular word might have on you or someone else.

A well chosen word – a ‘mot juste’ – can be worth taking a moment to find to get the best result from your communications.