Principles of Change: The Sixth of Nine

Your Language Helps You Retain Control During Times of Change

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Ariane de Bonvoisin
Ariane de Bonvoisin
I've interviewed thousands of people going through all types of change -- job loss, divorce, a cancer diagnosis, a baby, a new business -- and I've noticed some very similar patterns, behaviors and attitudes in people who are good at change. I've discovered nine principles, and I'll highlight one of them in each of my columns in the next few months. Here, then, is the next one:

Principle 6: People who successfully navigate change use empowering questions and words and think better thoughts.

Change makes us feel out of control. We are wired to want certainty, to know what's going to happen with the business deal or the relationship or the diagnosis. We hate the in-between phase. We cling to anything that feels a little permanent. We naturally look to control all the things that cannot be controlled, starting with other people and their reactions.

More Principles of Change
People who successfully navigate change know that the quicker they accept a situation, the less painful it will be.
People who successfully navigate change give themselves permission to be human. They feel their emotions and know how to move through them.
People who successfully navigate change know they are resilient, strong and capable of getting through anything. Period.
The Change Guarantee: From this situation something good will come.
People who successfully navigate change have positive beliefs.

Here's what you do have control of when you're either making or facing a change: your words, language, questions, the story you tell others and how much you let your thoughts be your reality.

People who are good at change have a very different vocabulary. They do not use words like "disaster," "nightmare," "worst day ever," "horrific." They are much more mindful of the emotional impact of this kind of language not only on their own body and mind but on other people as well. Ask yourself what are your go-to words, your dominant language patterns. If you don't know, ask any friend, loved one, colleague. They will tell you exactly the words you overuse. In the workplace, what are the words that keep getting repeated? If you want to change that environment, start with looking at your communication. Richard Branson, for example, uses the word "fun" every day. And the result is the creation of a "fun" business. What is the word you need to start using more often?

People who are good at change ask very different questions. They do not ask things like, "Why am I such an idiot?" "Why does this stuff always happen to me?" "Why am I so unlucky?" Instead they will go to questions like, "Who can help?" "How could this be a good thing?" "What I can learn from this?" "What action can I take?" "Can I find some humor in this?" "What can I focus on now?" Your brain will answer any question you give it, so start asking better questions if you want better answers.

People who are good at change tell very different stories. They do not tell the story of why something happened over and over. They are not stuck on the story of why it went wrong, why someone is to blame or what someone did to them. We are constantly telling people our stories -- why we got sick, why we got fired, why we didn't get promoted, what our parents did to us. Stop the story. Start telling the story of how you want things to be. If you want a new story, if you want something to change, create some space for something different to show up. Every business has a story. A story of why it does what it does, what its culture is. Be mindful of the story you keep perpetuating. Take people out of the "story box" you've put around them. That you can control.

People who are good at change control the meaning they give to things. We all tend to give so much credit to our minds, our thoughts. We think that if our mind is telling us something, well then it must be the truth. Don't believe everything your mind comes up with. So much of our thinking is negative. Our worst-case scenarios never happen. Do not let your mind "drag you into the basement." Watch it when it wants to do just that. You have control over this. Observe the mind's obsessive need to have you suffer. That's a choice. The mind doesn't have all the facts. If you want to impact your environment either at home or at work, start thinking better thoughts. Everyone will thank you for it.

When we start being much more aware and mindful of our inner world, our outer world tends to change. Language carries emotion, questions carry the energy of the solution or the problem, and stories are how we define ourselves, our past, present and future.

Ariane de Bonvoisin shares her change secrets in a free daily e-mail. Her book, "The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier," is now available in paperback. Contact her via Twitter at @clickariane or Facebook at
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