Our word choices – whether speaking or writing—impact how we are perceived, and the results we get. When we write, we take time to search for and edit out weak words, those which don’t say what we want or which muddle the clarity of our message. In conversation, it’s important to choose words that convey surety and confidence.

This is vital is when writing your Mission and Vison statements. When I give presentations on the subject, I often point out how a simple word choice or change can make the statements more powerful. We eliminate words like “will” and “plan to” and put the statements in the present tense. Even a Vision statement you don’t see as entirely possible to achieve (or at least not for a while) gains strength from being written in the present tense. Let’s look at the difference the right words can make:

Compare:

The Mission of the Blank School Media Center Program helps in creating lifelong learners with critical thinking skills and an appreciation of literature with enriching opportunities for all students to gain the self-confidence necessary to successfully learn in an information-rich world.

With

The Blank School Media Center Program creates lifelong learners possessing critical thinking skills and an appreciation of literature by collaboratively providing opportunities for all students to gain the self-confidence necessary to successfully learn in an information-rich world.

“Help” is weak, while “Enriching” is vague in the first example. They aren’t wrong, but they are supplementary. When writing something so concise, and something we want to have an impact, we can’t afford to be supplementary.

Changing a Vision statement into the present tense immediately adds force.

Compare:

The School Library Media Program will be a user-centered environment where up-to-date resources and technology and a responsive staff empower students and teachers to achieve their academic and personal goals.

With

The School Library Media Program is a user-centered environment where up-to-date resources and technology and a responsive staff empower students and teachers to achieve their academic and personal goals.

In our conversations, the subtleties communicated in our word choices can make a huge difference in how our messages are received. Saying, “I believe that purchasing books by diverse authors will make a positive difference in our students’ sense of belonging,” does not convey the same message as “I know that purchasing books by diverse authors will make a positive difference in our students’ sense of belonging,” “Believe” does not convey the same strength of conviction as “know.” Being aware of words that weaken or soften your impact can improve your proposals and have you better positioned to be accepted and approved.

In his article The Love for Confidence and Conviction, Bob Decker points out how “soft word” choices communicate the degree of confidence you have in your ideas, regardless of how much confidence you actually have. He recommends you eliminate the following terms:

  • Maybe
  • Possibly
  • I think
  • Just
  • I hope
  • Potentially

because they suggest you aren’t certain about what you’re saying. Each conveys hesitancy and a lack of conviction which does not support your success.

It is an odd fact of life that as receivers of information, we recognize these indicators of uncertainty and lack of confidence, yet as senders, we are frequently unaware of the implications of our word choices. To improve the power of your communication, both written and oral, tune into how others express themselves. Listen to the words your principal uses in proposing an initiative or plan. Did you hear confidence or uncertainty? Observe how others respond. Then take the time to notice your own language choices and speak (and write) from the passion and enthusiasm of your work.

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