Coaching Moments

"Coaching Moments" takes a
thoughtful, and sometimes lighthearted, look at how coaching
can be interwoven into our daily lives. 

War of the Words
by Janice Hunter

words are short and easy to speak, but their
echoes are truly endless.

~ Mother Teresa

If you’ve never argued with your
spouse, kids, partner or family members,
then I don’t know whether to write
to you for advice, shout “…pants
on fire!” or campaign to get you acknowledged
by the religion of your choice! Most of
us have hurt others with our words at some
time, and even though we may be trained
coaches and linguists, I’m convinced
that most of us still don’t fully
comprehend the power of the words we use
to shape – or destroy – our

I had a foul exchange with my husband the
other evening, but even while I was in mid-rant,
our consistent language patterns kept standing
out in sharp relief, as if I was watching
a soap opera. I drive him wild by constantly
analysing, mid-argument, the words and intonation
he’s been using. He sees it as an
annoying diversionary tactic and proof that
I’m not really interested in what
he’s saying. I naively think it might
help us see how we’re snowballing
into hell. We cover lots of unpleasant ground
in our arguments, from raising our voices
and talking over each other to intensifying
the language we use.

husband’s most hurtful argumentative
language pattern is to exaggerate his adverbs
of frequency and the intensity of the words
he uses. “You’re always
attacking me for…” “You
find fault with everything I …”
Everyone hates it when you…”

of us crank up our adverbs of frequency
to some extent but I’ve started to
notice my daughter doing the same thing,
and that really worries me. I’ve started
gently asking her if she knows it to be
true when she begins a complaint with “She
never….” or “You’re
always…..”. I’ve
also tried to discourage her from answering
everything with “OK.” So many
words available to her in her rich vocabulary,
to describe her days, her experiences, her
feelings yet how much teenage indifference
and misery can be expressed in those two
syllables! I’ve also tried drawing
her attention to how often she peppers her
speech with sarcastic ‘actually’s.

And what kind of messages do we send our
brains when we dress the relatively undramatic
events of our daily lives in the most colourful,
intense language we can, convincing ourselves
that we’re doing it simply to be more
expressive? Did he do something without
telling you that mildly disappointed you
or did he ‘stab you in the back’?
Did she say something that peeved you a
bit and made you vaguely sad or did you
‘take great offence’ at the
way she ‘attacked’ you? Are
you ‘shattered’, ‘terrified’
and ‘heartbroken’ or simply
very tired, a bit worried and feeling hurt
and sad?

How often do we torture ourselves with
‘should’s when a ‘could’,
or an honest, authentic ’want’
could turn our lives around?

How often does a sloppily worded email
cause unintentional offence?

area of language that can truly change lives
is first to notice, then change how often
we cancel out the best of intentions with
a ‘but’. “I love you but
…” “I’m sorry but
….” “I’m good at
_ing, but I’m useless at….”
Try, just for a week, to listen out for
the phrases we tag on after a ‘but’
– then leave out part two! Let’s try
loving and apologising unconditionally,
or revelling in our strengths for a micro
second before we cancel them out with a

I created this piece in my head as I stood
at the kitchen window, watching the falling
snow bend our trees in the eerie orange
glow of a street light in the middle of
the night. I’d gone to bed mid-argument,
couldn’t sleep, my husband came to
bed, I got up, so I’d decided to go
and make some camomile tea. I stood at the
window, mesmerised by the swirling orange
snowflakes and wondering how something as
delicate as a snowflake had the power to
bend and break the branches of trees. As
I stood watching, I saw one supple branch
rebel under the weight of the thousands
of snowflakes heaped upon it, catapulting
its burden with surprising defensive venom.
I went outside in my bare feet and dressing
gown and gently swept the snow off the remaining
trees with a broom, knowing it was too late
to take back the thousands of tiny thoughtless
comments I heap on my husband over the days,
weeks and months until he feels he has to
lash back at me about my lack of appreciation
and my seeming obsession with perfecting
details. I hoped I could at least save some
of our branches.

The morning after our argument –
we never usually go to sleep angry – my
husband apologised graciously and we narrowly
avoided having a fight about who was most
sorry! I’d like to leave you with
a great tip for apologising. We’ve
taught the kids to do it, and although it’s
really hard, it can cancel out huffs and
resentments with the positive power of language
and empathy. We call it the three part apology.

we say sorry for what it is we think we’ve
done. Then we try to empathise with how
the other person might be feeling; if we
get these first two parts wrong, it’s
still useful because the other person has
the perfect chance to explain kindly and
simply what was going on from their
point of view! The third part is to ask
if there’s anything we can do to fix
things. So, an example might be: “I’m
sorry I criticised you for buying things
at the supermarket that I didn’t want.
It must be really frustrating for you that
I didn’t empathise with how tired
you were and that I mentioned the things
you got wrong without praising you for everything
you got right. How can I fix it?

And by the way, bare feet in the snow?

Hunter is a writer, teacher and IAC certified coach who
currently specialises in homelife coaching – helping people
create authentic, spirit filled lives and homes they love –
and in supporting coaches on their certification journeys.
She lives in Scotland with her husband and two children.


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