Saturday, September 5, 2020

Could we be clearer in the ways we speak?


I always prided myself on being articulate and having the ability to express myself easily.  I also imagined, quite erroneously, that the people I interacted with on a regular basis would understand what I was saying and respond accordingly to me.  As I have been taught, the quality of our communication determines our relationships. So you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I encountered being misunderstood in interactions with some of the most significant people in my life.

Of course, this opens up a rather long conversation on relationships, a topic I do not want to get into here;  However,  for the purpose of this article, I  want to write about how having clarity in our spoken and written communication can help us to have better interactions in our lives.

When I worked as a Business Analyst and had to write specifications for the design of software systems, it was extremely important to write precise requirements. The documents which contained these specifications were reviewed over and over by critical stakeholders on the project. Often the relationships between the different groups responsible for the projects ended up being contentious or adversarial in nature. Therefore, the requirements that were documented had to be clear and precise and I often felt as if I was drafting a legal document – one that could withstand the scrutiny of the different representative groups on the project. Of course, unclear requirements led to rework in the programming of the software and/or errors further down in the process. This meant delays to critical timelines which directly impacted project costs.

One of the most common errors we are all prone to making in our everyday conversations is to delete or withhold information that is critical.  This is not a conscious decision on our part, yet happens as we are unaware of the ways in which we speak.  Typically, when we delete or withhold information, it is because we make assumptions. We assume that the people we are talking to and writing to, will understand the full intent of what we are trying to convey. More often than not, this gives rise to ambiguity and misunderstanding.  Instead we could employ a simple way to make sure that the other person has understood what we intended to convey by asking him/her to reflect back to us what they heard. In doing this, we can ascertain whether the message was received in the manner in which it was intended or make the necessary clarifications. When this happens, both parties are taking responsibility for their part in the conversation. The onus is not unduly placed on the speaker alone to take responsibility for the communication.

Further, when we use clear, positive language and seek reflection back, we are able to make sure that we have not left out information that we intended to convey. We minimize the possibility of our message getting misconstrued. It minimizes confusion and misunderstanding between both parties which will otherwise color the conversation and set the stage for frustration in the relationship.

Watch this space for further articles on how we might be more careful and precise in our communication in order to have better outcomes in our relationships.

Harini Narayan is a certified Master-practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Life Coach. This is part of a series of articles on how to use our language to have better outcomes. You can reach her at for coaching and workshops.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Words We Use



I have a dear friend who was a student of English Literature. When we want to talk to one another, we usually have an informal protocol between us where we send text messages to each other to find out whether we are available for a conversation. And she always texts and asks, “May I call you now?” The fact that she does this habitually endears her to me. It allows me to know that she is asking whether it is okay for her to call me, and suggests that she is considerate of my convenience.

This brings me to the larger subject of what I want to write about here. My earlier article talked about how our language shapes our behavior. It certainly serves to elicit a certain response in the person we are in conversation or correspondence with. The words we choose to use and certainly, the tone of voice we use, serve to set the tone for the conversation, correspondence and by extension, the relationship. When the relationship is significant, as with the people in our lives or at work, this becomes important.
When someone says, ‘Can I call you? , it is common to use this instead of the earlier example I gave here. While this may not seem to be incorrect, there is a subtle difference. The word ‘Can’ is used to show possibility as in ‘Do I have the possibility of calling you’ or to show ability – ‘Do I possess the ability to call you?’ In this context of requesting permission from my friend whether I may call her or not,  I display a concern for her convenience when I use the word ‘May I?’ rather than ‘Can I?’ which indicates my ability to call.  My choice of words subtly alters the tone of the exchange and serves to deepen the care between us.

Similarly, when I use the word ‘Should’ it suggests a certain compulsion to do something. It is one thing to use the word ‘Should’ when I am trying to motivate myself to do something that I need to be doing, for instance, “I should exercise three times a week.” The same word used to tell another person what he/she needs to do creates the feeling that there is compulsion from my side. This may not sit too well with the person I am talking to. However when I use the word ‘Could’ instead, it becomes more enabling and less as if I am forcing the other person to do something.
Here is a list of these Modal verbs – how could you use them effectively in your communication?
Can, Could, May, Might, Must, Shall, Should, Will, Would.

Harini Narayan is a certified Master-practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Life Coach. This is part of a series of articles on how to use our language to have better outcomes. You can reach her at for coaching and workshops.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Does Language influence the way we think?

I was recently talking to a young friend of mine who is pursuing an internship where she is making small videos on teaching younger children on developing their writing skills. I was very impressed at how she was able to communicate the idea of using imagery in writing in a simple and elegant manner, keeping in mind that her target audience would be middle-school children. After I finished congratulating her on her extremely effective video, I started thinking about how language, not only allows us to express our experience of our existence, but also is very powerful in shaping our thoughts and feelings about our experiences. Language, literally, shapes how we think and feel about our lives, our work and our relationships and therefore determines our behavior.

The common perception is that we think and thereafter,  speak.  I came across a TED Talk by Dr. Lera Boroditski which sheds light on a provocative premise – that the language we speak shapes the way we think. And the manner, in which we speak and think, therefore influences all aspects of our life, especially how we view our own experiences and our relationship with the world we inhabit.  According to Dr. Boroditski, the underlying structure of different languages, which make up the rules for a language, will determine how people will think in that language. You can watch her TED Talk by clicking on the link under her picture. 

She gives a fascinating example of how,  in certain languages, there are no words for exact numbers. Consider that the realm of Mathematics and all the disciplines based on numeric concepts would not be accessible to people who grow up in such a culture. How does a person from such a culture relate to another person who is able to express their reality in mathematical terms? In our globalized world, where we live and work with people from different cultures, the need to find ways to communicate effectively becomes critical, especially when we care about certain outcomes. When we change the way we speak, we change the way we think, and in turn change our lives and the lives of those who are significant in our work or personal lives. And what about the written word? That question opens up a whole other world of how the written word impacts someone differently from the spoken word.

One day, I was talking to my mentor about a particular problem I was having with someone and as I described my conversation, I said the following, “I should start to do what she tells me.” He stopped me immediately and asked me to examine my use of the word, “Should”. Instead he suggested to me to try the same sentence with the word “Could” instead of the word “Should” and asked me how I felt when I said the same sentence with the change he suggested. I experienced a slight expansion in the way I felt. From feeling compelled to do what was asked of me, now I was able to detect a slight possibility of a choice in the matter. As I experienced the feeling of having a choice, I felt liberated. I restated the sentence again with the word “Could” and felt that I could choose to act in a certain way or not. That immediately empowered me rather than making me feel I was forced to do something.

How may we change our language to influence our thinking and expand it? Stay tuned for further articles.

Harini Narayan is a certified Master-practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Life Coach. This is the first in a series of articles on how to use our language to have better outcomes. You can reach her at for coaching and workshops.

Friday, June 19, 2020

How may we develop Self-Awareness?

In my last post, I had written about how my young friend was able to shift his perspectives as he began to look inwards and develop some self-awareness.  When we are in the grip of some strong emotions, we are unable to view our situations dispassionately and arrive at a satisfactory solution for ourselves. We often find ourselves triggered when we encounter similar situations and find ourselves stuck in those emotional patterns. This in turn, gives rise to increased frustration with ourselves and the relationships or situations around us.

In this case, how may we start to cultivate self-awareness?

An important part of my journey through life begins with looking within myself  for insights. How do I react in certain situations? What triggers my emotional reactions to those situations? How may I choose to respond to other people in those situations, rather than react? And if I choose to respond, do I have better results in terms of those relationships? This exercise is important for children as they grow into their teenage years and beyond to high school and college. Teenage is particularly fraught with bewildering changes and is exacerbated with social pressures and the challenges of high school. As I am about to graduate from high school, what kind of work do I want to engage in? What kind of career would I like for myself? As I start to ask these questions, more insights emerge about who I am as a person. Do I like working with my hands?  Do I like working with other people?  Do I like helping other people? Slowly career choices start to crystallize.

The hope and desire is that the habit of seeking within for answers is encouraged and cultivated throughout one’s life.

On the flip-side, it is not just important for me to look within myself for insights and answers, but also necessary to gain an understanding of how others view me. Different research studies and articles on Self-awareness suggest that introspection alone is not enough to gain a comprehensive view of oneself.  Introspection alone may cause a person to be overly critical or harsh with himself and may be counter-productive in such cases. It is also important to seek to understand how others view us. This is particularly true in the work-place as I seek to make a space for myself in my career. And as I venture forth to build significant relationships in my life.

Self-awareness is, therefore, a balance between how I view myself and how others view me. In seeking to find out how others view me, I discover aspects of myself that I was unaware of – my ‘blind spots’ – which educate me and serve to give me a more comprehensive view of myself. While it is undoubtedly uncomfortable to seek and receive feedback from others, it offers me a window into myself and provides me with rich opportunities for growth and expansion. And as I become more open to seeking and welcoming feedback, I am actually able to respond to situations with an understanding that was not possible earlier. I therefore, become less reactive and more responsive.

Friday, June 5, 2020

How Awareness Can Change Perspectives

‘We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are’ - Max Depree

My young friend is living abroad and is looking for a different job opportunity so that he can come back to this country. While traveling abroad and working there for the last one year has been an amazing learning opportunity, he is ready to come back home to a more familiar environment. He misses little things and misses being close to his family and friends.

When he started to look for a job, he was starting to get stressed. It did not help that he had started working on a project which kept him working six days a week with fourteen hour-days. While he is used to working with a fierce intensity and determination, he is also particular about maintaining some semblance of work-life balance.  So equally, the job search was getting to be intense and needed focus and concentration; yet he was finding he had very little time and even less energy to do the needful when he had one day off.

What was interesting was hearing him talk to me two days ago. His tone of voice was different and he was enthusiastic about the insights that he had had. He routinely displays a maturity well beyond his years and is given to frequent introspection and self-awareness. He had done some soul searching and realized that he was experiencing feelings of despondency and desperation in relation to his job search which seemed to be a repeat of what he went through last year when he was looking for his first break. It appears that when he realized this about himself and became aware, he immediately decided that he was not going to go down that path again and suffer from the same emotional down slide. This awareness seems to have motivated him to change his perspective completely. In so doing, he shifted emotionally to a more optimistic view. Interestingly, this helped him see new possibilities for himself and helped pivot him towards what he truly wants to focus on.

When we are used to doing things a certain way and have a set of outcomes to show for the way we do things habitually, it is impossible for us to have a different set of outcomes by continuing to do the same things. If we want different outcomes, we need to change what we are doing. While this seems elementary, it is anything but. What helps in a situation like this is self-awareness. When my young friend became aware that he was experiencing the same negative emotions, his awareness helped him to observe his own behavior and decide that he did not want to go down that path and repeat the experience. Instead, when he consciously chose to change how he viewed his situation, his outcomes changed.

Monday, May 11, 2020


Heliotropism is defined as the directional growth of a plant in response to sunlight, where the plant moves and grows in the direction of the light source.

Life is similar and moves in the direction of the stronger energy, according to one of my teachers.

I was talking to my young friend who is faced with a great deal of uncertainty regarding his job and his location. He wants to relocate and therefore, needs to find a different job in the location of his choice. Earlier, while he was optimistic about his prospects for finding a new job, the breakout of the global pandemic has changed the environment completely. Now he does not know when he will be able to find a job so that he can relocate. When and how the job prospects will improve is completely unknown. In this situation, he is having a hard time managing his anxiety and therefore, his emotional state.

I was talking to him about the principle of heliotropism. Just as a plant reaches for the sunlight, Life also reaches towards what we put our focus on. If we focus on the negative circumstances in our life, more of the same manifests for us. On the other hand, when we focus on what is positive, our life responds in similar fashion. This idea seemed to resonate with him.

In any situation where we are dealing with unknowns, there are certain possibilities inherent in that situation. Within the range of multiple possibilities, there are always some that are positive and some that are negative.  In a case where there are two possibilities, with one being positive and the other being negative, the odds of choice A or B are exactly 50/50. Thus, as we look at these various possibilities, can we choose to plant and nurture a positive thought, rather than a negative one? By choosing to focus on the positive, we energize the possibility of have a positive outcome. If, on the other hand, we focus on the negative outcome, that is what will manifest. Thus, can we consciously choose to move in the direction of the positive thought or energy, much like the plant moves towards sunlight?

What do you think? Do share your thoughts or experiences in this regard. I would love to hear from you. Please write to me at with your comments or thoughts.