The Language of Grace

It surprises me that, with all of the research around the power of positive thinking and affirmative vocabulary, some organizations still have yet to embrace what I call the Language of Grace.

The Language of Grace, which is the third principle in my book Work that Works, is the practice of using words and phrases with positive connotations to ensure meaningful and encouraging encounters.

According to Mayo Clinic, the health benefits of positive thinking include:

  • Lower rates of depression and distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better cardiovascular health

When we look at language, the studies are equally as powerful. Cognitive studies have shown that affirmative language can actually motivate you to succeed. Harvard has studied how encouraging words can prime the brain to produce oxytocin, the chemical that helps trigger feelings like well-being, affinity and security.

From health to psychology, we see that using affirming words has a more motivating effect and leads to better results, which is a powerful business argument for using the Language of Grace!

How can you begin to incorporate the Language of Grace in your work? The three approaches I would encourage you to consider are to:

  1. Ask yourself how your words make you feel.
  2. Ask how your statement could make someone else feel.
  3. Target specific vocabulary words and replace them with affirming language.

How does this make me feel?

When you are delivering feedback or news, imagine yourself on the receiving end of the message. If the any of the words you are using make you feel deflated, you should consider how to rephrase the message to produce a more motivating effect.

Now, if you have passed the self-test, you can move onto the more difficult part of the test:

How will this make someone else feel?

Even if you have updated your language to something that feels motivating to your ears, you have an opportunity to make it even more encouraging if you put yourself into your colleague’s shoes and imagine their reaction to your message.

The Emergenetics Profile can simplify this process because the tool provides you with insights into how others prefer to think and behave. So, if you have an Analytical preference and are focused on the data driven rationale behind conversations, you may be motivated by a comment like: “If you complete this project on budget, then we’re going to hit our numbers.”

If you are speaking to someone with a Social preference, who may care about people over task, it may not have the same effect. Instead, you might phrase it as: “If you complete this project on budget, it is going to make our entire team shine.” You still hit your numbers, and you have helped motivate your employee by connecting with their Social preference.

Understanding the way your team members prefer to think and behave can be enlightening and help you frame your language to encourage those around you.

Target specific words in your vocabulary.

Another method is to identify certain words that have a negative connotation and replace them with those that have a more inspiring impact. Some examples are:

Language Today Language Tomorrow
But And
Can’t Have not yet
Busy Active
Challenge Opportunity
Hate I’d prefer…


Changing speech patterns does not happen overnight, so involve your teammates in the process. Let them know that you are working on incorporating affirming language, and pick a word a week to rephrase.

It can be easier to change behaviors when you work with others because you can help keep each other accountable. Plus, if everyone on your team is using the Language of Grace, you can more quickly realize the positive outcomes!

I encourage you to work on the Language of Grace this month, and experience the personal as well as the team benefits that come from a more encouraging frame of mind.

In the meantime, I will be working on my next blog post about the fourth principle in my book: Cognitive Collaboration!

If you’d like more tips on using the Language of Grace, or can’t wait to learn more about the next principles, get your copy of Work That Works today!

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