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8 Tips for powerfully objective language

The ability to communicate using objective language is a ​​superpower worth developing. Here we provide you our top 8 tips for maintaining powerfully objective communication.

1. Say only what you can see or hear, as if you are a video camera

You can practice non-judgmental language by describing situations as they would be registered by a video camera. These are words describing only what you can see or hear. A video camera cannot recognise someone as:

  • being dismissive
  • being aggressive
  • cutting people off

A video can recognize someone as:

  • rolling their eyes
  • speaking in a louder tone of voice
  • starting to speak before someone else finished

2. Use direct quotes

When you want to avoid adding interpretation to someone's communication, it can be helpful to quote exactly what they said. For example, instead of saying someone insulted someone, you could say, "You referred to them as an 'idiot'".

3. Stick to things that are quantifiable and measurable

A good way to check whether your description of what someone did was objective is to consider whether it can be measured. Subjective concepts like "disrespectful" or "lazy" are hard to quantify whereas "arrived 10 minutes late for the last three meetings" or "missed the last three deadlines" are quantifiable and objective.

4. Describe behaviors, not character traits

It's natural for us to want to characterize people with traits 'hard working', 'timid', or 'gregarious'. However, such labels are not objective and also box people in and are not supportive of a growth mindset. Objective language sticks to describing observable actions. Thus, instead of describing character traits, e.g., "she is hard working", describe the objective behavior, e.g., "she worked until 10pm every day for the last 2 weeks."

5. Don't exaggerate

Words like "always", "never", "extremely", "forever" are likely to be exaggerations and not objective. Instead of saying "He is always late", you can say "he was late three days in a row" or "I don't remember the last time he arrived on time".

6. Avoid subjective judgments of good vs. bad

Judgments of things being good vs. bad are usually too vague and subjective to be useful. Saying something was done poorly does not help people know what needs to be improved. Instead stick to objective descriptions and the objective impact. Instead of saying "That was a confusingly written report", you can say "I couldn't understand the link between your paragraphs".

7. Don't interpret the psychology behind others' actions

Interpretations of the psychological intent behind what others' actions are not objective, and can trigger a defensive response. For example if you say "you insulted me" someone could start disagreeing that they didn't insult you. Or if you say "you ignored me" they could say they weren't ignoring you and the meeting just ran out of time. These arguments over what someone did or didn't intend are not fruitful. We want to avoid them by sticking to facts. Instead of saying, "you ignored me" you can say, "you didn't respond when I said hello".

8. Never presume other people's feelings

Never assume how someone is feeling, no matter how sure you are or obvious you think it is. Sometimes you might want to ask if someone felt a certain way, or communicate someone gave you the impression of having a feeling to open up a discussion. For example, do not say, "You looked upset." Instead you could say, "I wondered if that upset you?".

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