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Stop Saying These Three Words to Improve Your Career

Stop Saying These Three Words to Improve Your Career


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By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, In Military, InCyberDefense and In Space News. Veteran, U.S. Army & U.S. Air Force.

Here’s an interesting paradox: Americans are an extremely optimistic bunch, especially when compared to our friends in Europe or Asia. But humans, by nature, have a very negative bias. In the days of the hunter-gatherer, this negative bias helped us notice things that threatened our survival.

But even if you consider yourself one of the more positive humans, there are still phrases that may be sabotaging your career success, as well as other peoples’ perception of you as a leader.

Fortunately, there are some tiny language tweaks that can make a huge impact on your career.

Opportunity Is Everywhere

I recently gave a speech to the cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy on the topic of leadership success, and I told them that there are three words that can wreak havoc on your subconscious. These three words are “I have to,” as in, “I have to run to the store. I have to do homework. I have to be there at 9 a.m.”

My advice to these young cadets, who would soon lead airmen in the task of defending our nation’s interests, was to swap out the phrase “I have to” and replace it with “I get to.”

The bottom line is that “I have to” feels like a burden to many people, while “I get to” feels like an opportunity. Our brains react very positively or negatively, based on the way we use language.

“Wait, Wes,” one of the cadets said. “You want us to say ‘I get to’ do homework?”

I answered, “Yes.”

Here’s the thing: Opportunity isn’t something that comes around once in your lifetime, and you’re lucky if you grab it. You can become the type of person who creates opportunity.

If you look at homework as an opportunity to better master a subject, excel beyond your peers and become a more well-rounded person, the burden of homework takes on a different meaning entirely.

A funny thing happens when you start to look at burdens as opportunities. The world starts to look very different to you because you have changed your perception from a life of tasks to be completed to one of “opportunities” to be nurtured. That is a pretty big mental change for the cost of only a small language tweak.

Replace ‘Thank You’ with ‘I’m Grateful’

By now, most of the cadets were on board with creating opportunities for themselves. I could see the change taking place in their eyes as I spoke.

But the next part was really going to shake them up. I told them, “I want you to stop saying ‘Thank you.’ Throw it right out the window with ‘I have to.’” This statement resulted in a few chuckles, a few snickers and some very confused looks.

But here is the brutal truth about the words “Thank you.” Everybody says it and we have used this phrase for so long that using it has become instinctive, devoid of any real meaning. Today, “Thank you” or “Thanks” is simply a thing we say to end a conversation.

If you are truly grateful, why not say that instead? I recently assisted a friend through a technical problem over the phone and after I fixed her issue, she said, “I’m grateful for the time you took to help me out.”

Whoa. That felt different.

The endorphins released into my brain upon hearing that statement really made me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside; as I had actually been recognized for the time I took out of my day to help her.

And all of us have the power to make others feel just as good IF we stop saying “Thank you.”

On the flip side of that, why not throw out “You’re welcome” also? That’s another phrase that is said so much that it is effectively meaningless.

Try replacing it with “Happy to help!” Or you might take a page out of the Chick-fil-A playbook and say, “It was my pleasure!”

Tweaking Your Language to Express More Positivity Is an Important Step in Creating a Better Career

The best part about tweaking your language is that it is something that you can start right away and without much fanfare. Language tweaks are simple and have an immediate effect on your interactions with other people, especially in your career.

Like the Air Force Academy cadets that I spoke to, your goals in an increasingly impersonal world should be to cultivate opportunities for yourself, express real gratitude to others and display authenticity through your actions.

Language is the first step to create a more positive world for all of us.



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