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Have Better End-of-the-Year Conversations By Using These Simple Words!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #198 – Watch or Listen HERE.

That’s a wrap for most of us.  I asked my family if they wanted to take my “last day of school” picture on Thursday as I wrapped up my classes at UA.  Unlike the chalkboard we will use to mark the end of our son’s 6th grade school year, I would have forgone the year on mine.  As I counted, I couldn’t believe the number…especially since I am 32 in my head!

But it’s and as Semisonic sang “Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other’s beginnings end”. 

Whether you are headed to the conference tournament or heading home, as seasons switch, it's conversation time!

Regardless of your current position, your conversations with those you lead over the next will impact what happens next, either on the field or as they head home to prepare for next season.

As I was preparing to present to a leadership group a few weeks ago, I came across some research I had tucked away that I think may help you structure your upcoming conversations in a very productive way.  (Before we go any further, I'd love to have a conversation with you about how we can work together to build your team's mental performance program! Reach out and let's talk about what your program could look like because now's the time to lay the groundwork for next year's success!)

We know the words we use matter.  The Gottman Institute, since the 1980s, has been able to predict whether a couple will stay married with 94% accuracy after observing their interactions for only 15 minutes.  How, you ask?  They listened to the words they used and how they responded to their partners in everyday conversation. 

As my college professor, Dr. Deirde Madden always said, “You can not not communicate” and how we do matters.  “Words are tools.  They predict and perpetuate our performance” said Trevor Moawad in It Takes What It Takes.  He also said “Words create worlds” and right now, we want worlds where people make choices to review, adjust, prepare and perform at their best!

So if our words are so important, how can we choose good ones to enhance the effectiveness of our upcoming pre-championship or end-of-the-year conversations?

Here are a few words that will not only lead to better conversations but will help change behavior after the conversation ends…and isn’t that the whole idea?

First, using “could” instead of “should” in conversation opens up options.  According to research done by De Drew (2003) and Zhang et. al. (2018) “could” holds immense potential for empowering those we lead. Unlike "should" or "must," which can feel restrictive, making options appear binary. 

Think about it, when someone asks you “What should we do?” you may think one or two things.  First, you might think they already have something in mind and you need to figure out what that is and answer accordingly.  Or, you may think there are only one or two answers and you must choose from those. 

Conversely, "could" opens up possibilities and encourages exploration. “What could we do?” allows us to think about just that…” what could we do?”  It doesn’t mean we have to or have all the answers on how.  It just means we have possibilities that we can parse out as we go.  It puts more options on the table.  Leaders who use "could" in their language empower their team members to think creatively, consider alternative approaches and take initiative.  It kindly forces a more thorough response.

Now that we have people thinking, it’s time to get them to identify with what needs to be done.  It’s time to use nouns instead of verbs!

Bryan (2014) found that using nouns instead of verbs got more buy-in.  What does this mean?  If we ask for leaders instead of saying we need someone to lead can make people more likely to act by 30%! 

In their study, they found that children who identified as “being a helper”, the noun condition, helped significantly more in the provided tasks than those who were “helping”.  The positive identity of being a leader or a helper are motivating factors and leads to more action!

Why should we use more could and nouns?  BECAUSE!  Why “because”?  Because a study from 1978 rings true today.  Langer et. al (1978) found that giving a reason for your request gets more compliance…and her numbers match The Gottman Institutes percentages!  CRAZY!

Langer found that because has an incredibly persuasive impact by providing reasons, even if they seem obvious. Here was the scenario.  Just look at the increase in compliance as the “because” became clearer, even if it wasn’t a strong argument!

In the study, they had someone ask to skip in line for the copier.  All those in line were waiting to make copies, of course, but here is how it played out! 

The first time the line-skipper asked “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine? Sixty percent of the people complied.

The second scenario had the line-skipper ask, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” This time 93% of the people complied EVEN THOUGH EVERYONE NEEDED TO MAKE COPIES! 

The final scenario asked, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” Although it was a small bump, 94% complied.

As humans, we want to comply and when someone gives us a reason to, even if it isn’t very compelling, we are more likely to do so!  We like to have reasons for what we do, even if they are simplistic.  It puts us into “I’m a helper” mode and it takes the requester out of instruction mode and into “I can’t do it without you” mode.

Because implies we are doing this “together” because you have a reason and are helping me.  But the benefits of using “together” don’t stop there.  Picture this, you are in front of your team and tell them we are going to “do (fill in the blank) together.”  Maybe it’s a conditioning exercise or a cognitive task. 

No matter what it is, just suggesting that you will be doing it “together”, even if the work is done independently, research says those you lead will work anywhere from 48 – 64% longer, and they will be more engaged with their work and show more persistence, they will rate the work as more interesting and they will solve problems more efficiently and effectively.   Even if we are not actually working on a task together, the word implies a shared purpose and promotes a sense of belonging.

Finally, let’s go back to our noun/verb approach and talk about tense.  We know that “could” opens up more thought than “should”.  And like our noun/verb work in looking for helpers, not someone who is helping, when we use the present tense, we are more persuasive. 

Packard et. al. (2016) suggest that “While past tense indicates that something was a particular way, or that a particular person had a particular experience at a particular point in time, present tense suggests greater confidence.”  They contend that when we use the present tense, we are speaking with more certainty, and it generalizes our experience.  We aren’t talking about how things were.  We are confident enough to state that this is how things are, implying that this is how things will continue to move.  Using the past tense suggests that this may be your opinion based on your perspective. Using the present tense suggests that this state is not just a “then” thing, it is a thing!

For instance, if you say “Our offense is effective” as you review the season instead of “Our offense was effective”, you are generalizing beyond what has happened and are more confident in what has and can continue to happen.  As the researchers state, “It is the true state of the world”, not just for you, but for others, too.  Research shows that people are more likely to be persuaded to agree with your statements and to look at things from your perspective which may be important in getting buy-in or behavior change.   Whether they like it or not, using the present tense allows them to see what you say as an objective and valid way to look at things.

Our words, their tense and our delivery all matter.  As you approach your important conversations this week, which of these are most important as you look to what your team needs to be their best?  What could you do?  I think you should consider your word choices because it will help you be more persuasive and effective.  Let’s work on this together this week!


Manage the moments and choose your words carefully!




P.S. Do you want your team to perform better?  Reach out and get them the tools they need to be their best! Email me at and get scheduled today!

Julie Jones

Mental Performance Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946 

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