Do people sometimes say things that just rub you the wrong way? Do you ever find that when some people are saying things, that you feel as though they're projecting their own personal experience, causing you cognitive dissonance? I've identified a couple of sources for this distress. With the simple substitution of just a couple of words, we could transmute any misunderstandings into more constructive communication. My intention with writing this article is to empower more people through raising awareness of subtle language techniques and become more effective wordsmiths.

Here's one of my favorite poems ever and in fact, the world's shortest one:

"Me, We." by Muhammed Ali


There are two cases where the potential of a minor misunderstanding could be easily turned into a major opportunity for intentionally conscious conversation. Although there are many more, I'm specifically going to focus on these two examples. The first is the use of the word "you", when often times it would be better to use the word "one" or more accurately, "I". The second is the casually desensitized use of the word "should", especially when it follows "you", as in the always offensive "you should".

What I've witnessed in countless conversations is the resistance that is aroused in me when someone is attempting to relate their own thoughts or experience of events and repetitively use the word "you" when in fact, they're really referring to themselves. Here's an example, if someone was just starting to explore and experience health benefits from eating a high percentage of whole organic raw foods and wanted to tell me all about it, they might say something like this:

"... so I've been reading these books on nutrition and have been making amazing food. The thing is, when you actually begin to eat this way, you really start to notice a dramatic change in everything. It's true that raw food makes you feel so much better and lighter. Also, studies show that the vitamins and enzymes are good for you and that cooked food, meat and coffee acidify your system."

Does that sample sentence inspire you to try eating more live foods and give up cooked food, meat and coffee? Doesn't it make sense how this repetitive use of the word "you" was misdirected? Obviously, they were talking about themselves and in reality don't have any authority to assume what your personal experience would be like. Naturally, everyone's body is different and will respond uniquely to any change in dietary habits, even though the health properties of fresh foods are generally supported by ancient wisdom and modern science. The point is, most people don't want to have someone else claim dominance through projected opinions.

Now let's see how it looks and feels when the dreaded pirate word "should" is introduced: "... so then I went to this healing retreat. It was a nice place and the people were friendly. It's the kind of thing where you can let your hair down and relax. From the time you get there until you leave, the whole experience makes your body feel wonderful and free. You should go."

What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and go! After all, they really enjoyed themselves and you certainly would too. This particular type of talk takes innumerable shapes and forms but hopefully you get the idea. To be honest, I do enjoy the positive effects of farmers markets, superfoods, herbs, detoxifying and healing retreats, but I consciously choose to be clear, out of consideration for others, that that what I convey pertains to myself. I think it's a more intelligent articulation to substitute "one" or even "I" in these cases.

Try this modification on for size: "... so if one really wants to learn how to heal the body, there are lots of resources available. Since I've adopted the practice of drinking living spring water, a feeling of euphoria fills me up and eliminates toxins through me. Furthermore, there's plenty of evidence to prove that with the addition of wholesome fresh foods into ones lifestyle, the juiciness of life has more potential for everyday activation. A liquid based nutritional strategy has helped me immensely and I would strongly suggest it for anyone interested in taking their life to the next level."

That's how I might alternatively approach a conversation where I'm sharing my thoughts or experience. No preaching, projecting, assumptions, judgment or baggage and hidden bias. Just good old fashioned straight shooting, with a friendly recommendation at the end. I feel that there's more safe space in there to allow freedom for others to make their own assessment and choice to take it or leave it.

It's similar to when a parent commands their child to do or not do something. More often than not, they're going to directly disobey that imposed authority, just to spite them. There's a time and a place for everything. Often times, social dissonance is derived from poor communication and lack of understanding. I think that if there's anything that can be done to remedy these situations, it's to be found in the training of attention on the subtle intricacies of language.

I offer these two simple solutions to you because I know they've dramatically augmented my own paradigm of dialogue. There's been countless articles, books and videos that highlight how one can improve their relationships by putting in some thought before saying something. The books below go into a great more detail than I've done here, but I just wanted to share my own humble experience with crafting language as a skill to increase the quality of my own communications. May this be of service to you and add value to your life.

David WhippleComment