When speaking with a loved one or friend, we may not wish to argue or make them feel bad, but sometimes our choice of words may instigate an argument or cause hurt feelings anyway. In many instances, our language choices can actually be an obstacle to effective communication! This may be because of what I call “judgmental verbs”.
I have recently come up with this term for verbs that when spoken, or I hesitate to say, even thought, block effective communication as well as connection with others. These are verbs that express an evaluation by the speaker as opposed to just being descriptive.
Here is an example:
Natasha came home from work and was tired. She complained to her husband Dylan about her day, telling him how demanding her boss was, and how she was tired and had sore feet. She reminded him the garbage truck was coming in the morning and asked him to do some other small household chores. He said to her “After working all day myself, I don’t like to hear you bitching at me ! I know the garbage truck is coming, it comes every Thursday. I don’t need you nagging me to do stuff around here, I pull my own weight.”
And then an argument ensued.
In the preceding example, the judgmental verbs stand out easily. “Bitching”, and “nagging”. Any number of words can be replaced for bitching, but recently I’ve tried saying “complained justifiably, or unjustifiably, in my opinion”. This serves to separate opinions and judgments from an accurate description of events. Same goes for “nagging” – he could have simply said he doesn’t need a reminder. But that example was an easy one. How about this one:
Natasha was upset about the messes Dylan often makes in their bedroom. After walking around picking up after him, and getting angrier and angrier, these words finally exploded from within: “The problem with you is, you are such a slob! You procrastinate cleaning up after yourself until I am forced to do so! You abandon your dishes as if I am your personal maid! You’ve disappointed me. I thought you cared more about my feelings. “
And then another argument ensued.
The verbs used in that example that can be categorized as judgmental are: procrastinate, abandon, and disappointed. These word are judgmental because they guess at the other person’s reasons for their behavior. They may not have been procrastinating doing something, they may have just forgot. Or maybe they didn’t want to do that thing at all. Or maybe they were unable to for some reason. Or maybe they didn’t even realize an action needed to be taken. Et cetera.
Natasha would have gotten the compassion and connection she hoped for at the end of the day if she had chosen her words more carefully. She could have instead said, “This mess in our room upsets me. I prefer the room to be neat and tidy – what do you prefer?”
Or maybe, “ I see a lot of empty bags of chips and wrappers here. Would you be willing to pick them up?” Or maybe even just say nothing at all. She could choose to not pick them up and do something else altogether, avoiding an argument when she was too tired to take the time to carefully choose her words.
Mixing an interpretation with an observation often blocks communication and connection, because it may elicit defensiveness. When a person is coming from a defensive perspective they often can’t hear what else the other person may be trying to say, or may have already said, but mixed with judgment. They may respond with a counterattack, or may agree with the judgment expressed and internalize the negative message and subsequently feel bad, and/or apologize, or they may close themselves off from further conversation in one way or another. Each of those options is not optimal when aiming to effectively communicate a message or solve a problem. Therefore I have personally been campaigning against the use of judgmental verbs in my own speech and thoughts, and have intentionally tried to avoid using them.
Here is a list of some judgmental verbs:
Choosing our words carefully can assist in effective communication and a deeper connection. It may seem frustrating, or like it’s too much work, or maybe even counter-intuitive to attempt to edit oneself in this way, but the benefits are evident when this strategy is adopted, quite quickly. The amount of arguments may diminish, or cooperation may be more easily acquired, or a shared moment of empathy may transpire. This strategy can make an argument into a cooperative effort. Little things like word choice can have huge consequences and implications. By choosing to include descriptions, but separate judgments, or exclude them altogether, we can connect more easily with one another, communicate more effectively, and maybe even solve problems cooperatively.
I personally attempt to have positive relationships, and strive on a daily basis to improve my own behaviour in light of this goal. This bring me back to why I titled my blog Living Life Intentionally.. This is what I strive to do on a daily, and I hope keeping this blog will assist me to do so. The concept of judgmental verbs is something that has been on my mind as of late, and I hope my readers enjoy this post, and/or found it useful in some way. 🙂