If you were alive during the Salem witch hunt of 1692, choosing the right words could easily mean the difference between life and death.
Let’s say you were accused of being a witch — how would you have responded?
It might seem natural to say, “I don’t even know what a witch is!”
While that response may seem like the ultimate declaration of innocence, it would get you instantly killed. The prevailing wisdom of the time was that if you didn’t know what a witch was, you couldn’t possibly know for sure you weren’t one.
Twisted logic for sure. But the point is that words are an incredibly powerful tool we all use, for better, or worse.
At best, the right words can lead to amazing relationships, higher income, and the power to call the shots in just about any situation.
Yet, if you look closely, you’ll notice most people don’t pay much attention to the words they use. As a result, words make their lives worse — instead of better.
For example, how many times have you heard someone say something thoughtful, and then tack on the words “that’s just my 2 cents” at the end?
Is there ever a good reason to say something like that? If you don’t believe in your advice, you’re better off keeping it to yourself. On the other hand, if you do think it’s important and helpful, why kill its value with a demeaning label like “2 cents”?
Btw, no one is immune from this behavior. It’s usually something we pick up very early in life (from well meaning but misguided role models) and it takes conscious effort to unlearn.
One surprising example: I recently saw an email where a high paid consultant labeled a piece of his advice to one of his clients as “my 2 cents” — when they were paying him hundreds of dollars per hour for his help! How is the client supposed to feel when he reads that?
If someone is voluntarily listening to you, they WANT to hear what you have to say. And you don’t need to be the world’s foremost authority on a subject to have a valuable opinion.
Once you recognize this, you’ll start seeing phrases we use that undercut our own value everywhere:
- “I guess…”
- “No response required”
- “Of course, that’s just me”
- “I could be wrong, but…”
I’m not suggesting you put up a false front to try to impress people. Far from it. In fact, I’m no stranger to sharing my genuine shortcomings, weaknesses, and even failures with you. (Check out one example here.)
But notice that, in the situations I’ve described above, you’re NOT honestly representing yourself. You’re actually degrading yourself DISHONESTLY, by under-representing your true value.
There’s an easy way to fix this behavior: Whenever you catch yourself about to say something self-deprecating, just pause for a moment (no one is likely to notice) and silently ask yourself, “Is this an honest representation of a shortcoming — or am I dishonestly degrading myself for no good reason?”
I think you’ll find that, most of the time, you can use this approach to avoid dishonestly degrading yourself. There’s no need to replace the negative comment with anything — just omit it and move on. You don’t need to fill every bit of silence in every conversation.
Your interactions and your self-esteem will skyrocket, as will people’s opinions of you.
You might think, “Oh sure Danny, it’s easy for you to value yourself highly — you get paid hundreds of dollars per hour, have a huge email list, etc.”
That cynical viewpoint misses the big picture — that it works both ways. If you want to be successful, cultivating the right attitude first can help you get there much faster. How can you expect others to pay you what you’re worth, give you the respect you deserve, and seek out your attention if you’re labeling your own self-worth at “just 2 cents”?
Now I’d love to hear from you about this. Tell me about a time when you undercut your self-worth by saying the wrong thing (or failing to say the right thing).
Drop your comment below. I read it all, personally.
No one is going to judge you, and we’ll all gain value by hearing about each others’ experiences.
PS: If you don’t have a personal story to share, maybe you’ve noticed someone else being dishonestly self-deprecating (it’s always easier to spot it when other people make mistakes). What did they say? And how do you think it affected how other people perceived them as a result?
It doesn’t even need to be a phrase like “my 2 cents” — it can even be an intonation. For example, maybe your best friend phrases sentences like questions, which could easily make their opinions and thoughts sound less powerful. Leave a comment and let me know.
(Flickr Creative Commons Image via Ian Carroll)