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Revealing Phrases

As one who studies cultures as a professional, I pay particular attention not only to what people say, but how and why they say things.

When I begin working with a new client, I listen to how the people in the organization refer to themselves and to others.  For example, if they use the pronoun ‘we’, even if they are talking about someone who works in an unrelated department, it is a possible indicator that their company culture is fairly strong.  If, however, employees refer to other employees and other departments as ‘they’, it could indicate that there is a lack of unity in the organization.  Of course these are merely potential indicators.

In my social life I pay attention to how and why people say things as well. During the housing boom I remember hearing the term ‘tear-down’ quite a bit.  This referred to a house that needed to be torn down—not because it was necessarily dilapidated—but because the rising value of the land it was on merited a nicer house.

Lately I’ve been hearing some phrases more often than I’d like to, such as ‘walk away from the house’ and ‘underwater mortgage.’  These are direct reflections of the housing bust and, while not positive, they aren’t as potentially ominous as another phrase I’ve heard of late.

Six times since December I have been in a social situation where I’ve heard older people talking about health care, the economy, or our government when someone uttered, “I’m glad I won’t be around to see it.”

The part that concerns me is that these are the people who have lived through many more challenging times in this country than I.  It’s an age group that I’ve always known to be resilient, positive and take the long view on things with the sense of optimism that comes from seeing tough times come and go.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard older Americans talk like this.  I don’t know if it’s an indicator of bad things to come, or merely a reflection of the pessimism that can come in challenging times.  I’m hoping it’s the latter.

For me, I’ll continue to pay attention to such things and to doing all I can to help people discover a way to find power in their circumstance rather than become a victim to it.  In the meantime, I encourage you to pay attention to any new, negative and potentially revealing phrases that might be appearing in your life, both at work and at home. Perhaps in doing so, you can do yourself the favor of finding power in the situation, rather than resigning yourself to the victim role.

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