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Through my career working in technology I've become accustomed to hearing certain phrases from programming and engineering folks. These phrases may seem rather harmless on the surface but I've seen how they can tear others down and create a divide between technology staff and others in the workplace. I've heard these phrases hundreds if not thousands of times, so much so that I cringe each time I hear them. After the break are some of these phrases and ideas on what you can say instead.

Destructive: It's not my problem.
Constructive: How can I help?

This is perhaps the most common phrase I've heard and it defeats all progress. You may not have caused the problem or even have been involved in the project or issue. But you are part of the organization who shares the same goals. Instead of shunning responsibility, own the problem. Ask how you can help. You'll quickly become someone known to focus on solutions.

Destructive: What you don't understand is..
Constructive: Let me explain a different way.

If you've ever explained a technical situation or business concern to someone who just doesn't get it it's easy to start talking "at" them as if they don't understand. If they don't understand, they probably know they don't understand. Instead of drilling this point into them try to explain a different way. Take your time and you'll both walk away from a productive conversation.

Destructive: The problem is..
Constructive: Our challenge is..

This phrase was put on the list after I heard one person use it endlessly over the course of the year. All they wanted to point out were the problems and they didn't seem at all concerned about solutions. That was unfortunate. The word "problem" seems so negative to me. And while there are plenty of problems in the software and technology world there are tons of solutions too. Instead of focusing on just the problem, focus on the challenge of solving the problem and work with others to create solutions. A solutions-oriented attitude always trumps one which can't get past the problem.

Destructive: That one department is always..
Constructive: Here's some ideas which may help others

Every company has one or two departments everyone loves to blame and talk bad about. But does this kind of activity help you and the company or work to create a larger divide between those involved? One thing I know is true here. Whichever language you use, it is infectious. If you badmouth other departments your co-workers are likely to do the same. But if you work on ideas and solutions to help others do better work, everyone wins.

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This entry was posted by Aaron West on July 24, 2013 at 8:47 AM. It was filed in the following categories: Personal. It has been viewed 52207 times and has 2 comments.

2 Responses to Constructive Versus Destructive Language

  1. How do you propose we bridge the gap between the "Us vs. Them" mentality that brews with such destructive communication tactics?

  2. @David - there are likely a bunch of things you could do. But I would suggest starting with your day-to-day activities and interactions with your co-workers.

    Step 1: Be cognizant of what you say to others.
    Don't assume you are correct. Listen to others. Consider how what you are saying will come across to the other person.

    Step 2: Identify destructive language you are using.
    Start with my examples and expound on them. Try and catch yourself using destructive language and when you can replace this language with a constructive equivalent.

    Step 3: Encourage others to do the same.
    Monitor your own progress and your own awareness (and how it changes) with respect to steps 1 and 2. As you see progress within yourself encourage your team members to do the same. You'll already be encouraging them by your actions which they will have probably noticed already.

    Step 4: As you learn more, adjust the above steps or add more.
    Like I said at the start of my comment, there are a number of things you can do. The key is to "start with something" (perhaps these steps) and be prepared to make changes as you progress and as changes are necessary.

    Just my 2 cents worth.