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Make your words count

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We use words every hour of everyday. But that doesn’t mean we should overlook the power they wield.

According to media expert Steve Kayser and author of The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard, “Language is the code that translates ideas so they can be shared. But in our personal and public lives, we are inundated with empty words; words that are used incorrectly; words that are drained of all meaning; and so fail to accurately convey the intended message.”

Something as seemingly inconsequential as word choice can ruin your relationships and alter the course of your entire life, says Kayser. Here are his recommendations for how to make your words work for you:  

Skip phrases such as “crystal clear.” Speaking of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “I want to make this crystal clear: The president is desirous of trying to see how we can make our best efforts in order to find a way to facilitate.” Hardly a clear message. So try to avoid overused or unnecessary words. Businesses are notorious for using words that hide meaning rather than reveal it, says Kayser. “What people want is authenticity in language, to say what you mean and mean what you say.”

Model Mark Twain, the “straight shooter.” This great American writer was a master of wit and commentary that cut to the heart of a matter. While no one expects you to have the skills of a Twain, you can use language in a way that’s authentic and inspiring. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” said Twain. “So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Use jargon to your advantage. Businesspeople love jargon—it just goes with the territory. As opposed to political doublespeak, business jargon can be helpful. It can show that you’re in the upper echelons of your company. Kayser notes that “some of the language you come across in the business world can seem absurd to outsiders; some of these phrases, however, may actually reveal ambition in an employee.”

Language is part of our heritage, what Kayser calls “a common tool for everyone to use.” It has the power to influence people and change the way they think. Make sure your words accomplish your goal of communicating your meaning in the most effective way.   

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