Language of change

Master the Language of Change

Do you speak the language of change? Language shapes thought and thought shapes actions. What if the language that you use makes it harder to bring about the difference that you want to see?

Tony Robbins states that according to Compton’s Encyclopedia, the English language contains some 500,000 words. Yet the average person’s working vocabulary consists of 2,000 0.5% of the entire language. And the number of words we use most frequently, the words that make up our habitual vocabulary? For most people, it averages 200-300 words. This is astonishing because it implies that the language of change that you have been using may be more limited that what you previously thought.

As an Executive Coach who helps Leaders manage change effectively and as part of the Leadership training programmes that I deliver, I often draw on John Kotter’s research, a professor at Harvard Business School and world-renowned change expert, who introduced his eight-step change process in his 1995 book, “Leading Change and XLR8“.

John Kotter 'Leading Change'

If you would like to explore where you are with the language of change and what you could do to expand, I invite you to do FOUR exercises. They are simple and quick to complete.


Exercise 1 is about your understanding of your ‘favourite’ words related to the language of change. Favourite in this instance means that you are using those words all the time by default without necessarily thinking or choosing your words.

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Exercise 2: Once you have done exercise 1, have a look at the words that you have written. What impact would they have on other people when you use them as part of your key messages and conversations? I invite you to classify those words into positive/negative and neutral feeling. Count how many you have in each column. Now you know not only the words that you are using when talking about change, but you also know the emotion that they create and the likely impact they may have on people. Do the words in those three columns bring about the difference that you want to see?

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Exercise 3: If the words that you are using (now that you know about their emotional impact on people) do not bring about the change that you want to see then change your habitual vocabulary. Spend the next 15 minutes on and make a note of the new words that you would like to use and add them to your repertoire.

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Exercise 4 is about comparing the words that you have chosen from with this list below which might offer you even more possibilities.


So if you can instantaneously change how you think, how you feel, imagine the impact and influence that you may have on people in making them understand and accept change. You need to be having conversations that promote change and discussing how you can best accommodate and respond to change. If we had a coaching session on the language of change, I would ask you the following 3 questions:


Coaching Question 1: When you talk about change, how do you adapt your language to offer different possibilities??

The key word here is ‘possibilities’ as you are asked to think about the words, sentence and questions that you will use to talk about change. Replacing a word with an equivalent one (so using synonyms), perhaps even a more specific one, can improve how you are communicating your ideas.


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  • Synonyms may prevent the desensitisation in your audience that comes from the repetition of the same words.
  • Synonyms carry different emotional weight, or signal a specific register, or indicate different attitudes. Different words sound different. They have different rhymes, different alliterations.
  • Sometimes, the simpler word just sounds wrong, and you need something else to fit the rhythm of the sentence or paragraph.

Coaching Question 2: What tools and processes do you use in your conversations to promote change?

Tool 1: Your awareness

Self-awareness is being conscious of what you’re good at while acknowledging what you still have yet to learn. This includes admitting when you don’t have the answer and owning up to mistakes. You must be aware enough of your business landscape to recognize that a need for change exists. As a Leader, you need to anticipate the unexpected and take proactive steps to provide solutions for a changing terrain, magnifying your vision from being traditionally  linear  to  circular vision or 360 degrees . Ask good questions and solicit feedback.

Tool 2: Your timing

As a Leader managing change effectively, you are selling change and this requires impeccable timing. You need to not only be aware of when to make your pitch but more importantly how to sell change knowing that regardless of what type of opportunity or innovative idea you are selling it is likely to lead to resistance from your colleagues.

Tool 3: Your communication skills

You must be able to easily articulate (clear and simple words in your writing and speaking skills) how you will be able to connect the dots of opportunity that were previously unseen or unrecognizable. You might decide to assemble a diverse team that can help you execute and that can help you sell the change all the way through.

Tool 4: Your mental toughness also called resilience

To withstand the obstacles and resistance by those affected by the change you are selling demands mental toughness also called resilience. Mental toughness is a must when you are selling change because you are dealing with adversity and crisis during a process that can be draining. You should become mindful of how best to manage the consequences of the change that you are selling. There is a quote that says ‘adversity makes or breaks you, but it primarily reveals you’.

Coaching Question 3: What library of thoughts do you use?

Reading about change is always helpful as it can give you a different perspective.


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This blog on the language of change gives you the power to change your experience and influence others. Thank you as ever for stopping by. What do you think of what you’ve read? I hope it’s helpful if you are planning to lead and manage change effectively. Feel free to comment below or email me at

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