Language Empowerment

“Language is the main medium of human communication whether used in spoken or written form.” 

The use of language, how individuals express themselves verbally and non-verbally to others, can be empowering to both themselves and the people with whom they are communicating.  Looking at how language is used is important in terms of self-empowerment and when attempting to empower other people.

The Use of Language for Personal Empowerment

In terms of personal empowerment and communication the following ideas are helpful and their use can be both self-affirming and positive:

  • Use Positive Language:  Research into language suggests that a person’s self-image is reflected in the words that they use.  For example, people who say they ‘should‘ behave in a certain way implies passivity and can detract from them seeming to be in control and taking responsibility for their actions.  Talking about yourself in a positive way, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, can be empowering.
  • Use Active Language:  Use terms which imply positive action rather than making vague statements, particularly when talking about the future.  For example, ‘I will…’ and ‘I can…’.
  • Use Words to Define Your Own Space and Identity:  If you fail to use words to define your own space and identity then others will tend to define you and set standards by which you evaluate yourself.  Furthermore, they will try to persuade you to conform to their demands.  Be clear about who you are and what your values and goals are – do not let others define you.

The Use of Language for Empowering Others

In order to use language to help empower others:

  • Do not use jargon or complex terminology:  The use of jargon and complex terminology can be both alienating and dis-empowering.  When working with clients the use of jargon can create feelings of intimidation and inferiority.  Without shared understanding of the words you use, effective and empowering communication cannot take place.  Choose words with care, which give clarity to what you are trying to express.
  • Focus on the words people use:  Mirror words people use, see our pages:  Reflection and Clarification for more information. Using shared terminology appropriately can enable you appear more ‘in tune’ with the other person and what they are saying.
  • Choose positive words:  Choosing positive or active words such as ‘will‘ or ‘can‘ indicates that you have control in your life and is more likely to induce positive action in others.  Compare the use of these words with others such as ‘might‘ or ‘maybe‘ which suggest hesitancy.  Using words and statements which carry responsibility are empowering as they suggest a determined rather than a passive approach.
  • Avoid criticism and negativity:  Criticism should always be given with extreme care and only when absolutely necessary.  Once words have been spoken they cannot be easily taken back.  If criticism is necessary then it can be given in a constructive way, through the use of positive and supporting words and phrases.  Always attempt to cushion criticism with positive observations.
  • Use open questions when appropriate:  The use of closed questions will restrict responses to ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers.  This type of question can leave people feeling powerless because there is no opportunity to explain their response.  On the other hand, open questions give the person being asked the chance to explore the reasons behind their answers.  Open questions encourage a person to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions and can therefore aid empowerment.  Open questions can also help people to solve problems through their own devices, help them to set their own goals and work out an appropriate plan of action.