While tone and body language can often turn minor disagreements into full-on arguments, it’s more often the words people use that cause conflicts to grow.
So which words are guaranteed to start or escalate a conflict? I often see a strong pattern developing around the following three words (and some variations) if you use them carelessly:
While I’m not suggesting that you never use the word “No,” I am suggesting that you be sensitive to how and when you use it. I have noticed that some people tend to automatically say “No,” even before they have fully assessed or investigated the situation. I have carefully observed the body language of people who receive the “no” statement, and it is almost universally negative.
Don’t be quick to say “No.” Instead, fully listen to what other people have to say. Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand their message. Only say “No” once you have completely heard the other side and know that it is necessary to do so.
When you to tack “but” on to the end of a statement, it almost always comes across as negative. For example, imagine that you and I are in a conversation and that you have just shared your opinion with me, and I say: “You know, that’s a good point, but …”
It almost doesn’t matter what I say following the “but.” I have probably triggered a natural defensive mechanism in you, so even if what I say is positive, you probably won’t be open to receiving what I’ve said.
Now, consider the same statement with one small tweak: “You know, that’s a good point, and …”
It creates a more positive lead-in to the second part of the statement. Even if I offer a slightly different interpretation of the facts, I have avoided triggering your defensiveness, so you are more open to receiving my feedback. One little word substitution can yield huge benefits in communication effectiveness.
Also avoid these words that have essentially the same impact: however, except, and yet.
My real point here is to beware of using words with an absolute or final connotation. Another word that fits in this category is never.
The next time you find yourself in a conflict or confrontation situation, beware of those words and their common variations. Remember to use them intentionally — to make a specific point — rather than out of habit because they are the first words that come to mind.