Mind Your Language


How improving what you say can change your mindset and reputation


I’m a big fan of cognitive behavioural therapy. I think everyone should learn about it, whether they’re in need of therapy or not because it explains so much about how we think and how to control our mindset. One of the main insights I have taken away from it is that when we’re tired, stressed out, or even bored our brains revisit the same thoughts and memories that we already think about the most. These are our most well-worn neural pathways, so represent the path of least resistance when we don’t have the energy to think of something new. This of course causes a feedback loop, so the type of thoughts we default to quickly become a habit.

The things we say out loud feed into this too, helping to form our self-image as well as others’ opinion of us. If we say negative things all the time, we might embody the “grumpy sound guy,” but if we try to see the upside to every situation we might actually find it, and become known as someone who can raise morale in challenging circumstances. It is also far more professional to remain polite and positive instead of complaining all the time. I know this sounds dangerously like a recommendation to bottle everything up and fake a positive mental attitude. I don’t think that’s healthy, and problems should be addressed. However, some approaches are more constructive than others, and you would be surprised by how helpful it can be to tweak your language just a bit. For example, a friend once told me that any time she wants to say “F*ck them”, she says “Bless them” instead. Not only is this more acceptable to say in front of others, it helps you to remember that the other person is only human, and they might have issues that they’re dealing with that you are unaware of. It also gives control of the situation back to the speaker: you aren’t letting the other person’s actions get to you, you’re showing compassion for them and then moving on.

It might feel weird and fake at first, but practising replacing negative comments with more positive ones can actually reprogramme your thinking until you genuinely mean what you say, and can make you more pleasant to work with! It is also a good idea to include more professional and inclusive phrases until they come naturally to you. It will help you to remain calm and avoid social faux pas while your focus is on other things. This habit takes time and effort, and I’m still working on it myself, but it is worth it to improve your mindset and build your reputation as a great colleague that people want to work with. Here are some helpful swaps to get you started.

“Turn it off and on again” = “Power cycle it”

Turning gear on and off again does often fix the problem, but calling it power cycling makes you seem more professional and helps to justify your day rate as a technician.

“It wasn’t plugged in” = “There was an air gap”

See above.

“I hit it with a hammer” = “I performed percussive maintenance”

Try to avoid hitting audio gear with hammers, but if you must, keep it quiet.

“My boss” = “My client”

If you find yourself complaining about your boss(es) a lot, especially if you’re self-employed, referring to them as your client instead helps to reset your relationship with them and helps you to remember that you’re working with them because you chose to.

“Gents/chaps/boys/fellas/ladies/girls/ladies and gentlemen” = “Everybody/folks/people”

“Soundman/noiseboy” = “tech”

As a woman who often gets referred to as a man both in a group and individually, this is a bugbear of mine. The response when I point it out is always, “Oh, it didn’t occur to me,” but would you ever stand up in a crowded venue and address the audience as all being of one gender? Then why do it with any group, unless you’re in a monastery or something? Just pick one term that can be applied to everyone and stick to it. It helps everybody feel welcome and included, and you don’t end up stumbling over your words when you realise you left someone out halfway through your sentence. If you don’t know someone’s gender, for example discussing a tech role that is yet to be filled, referring to them as “them” covers all your bases. It isn’t political correctness gone mad, it’s the easiest and best option.

“This show is a mess and everyone keeps changing their minds” = “This is an organic, flexible production”

We work in a creative industry and things change all the time. If you learn to expect the unexpected and treat advance information just as a rough guide it will help to keep your stress levels low.

“The engineer is an idiot” = “It’s a PICNIC situation”.

PICNIC: Problem in chair, not in console. This one is a bit too well known to actually get away with using and is just for fun.

“I hated that set” = “The audience loved it!”

The audience’s opinion is the one that matters anyway.

“That’s not my job/I don’t know” = “X can help you with that, let me take you to them”.

It can be tough to tread the fine line between being a team player and doing everyone’s job for them. Introducing the asker to the relevant person on the team shows that you’re happy to help and enables them to find the right person from then on, while you concentrate on your own role.

“It’s f*cked” = “We have an issue that we’re working on, could you give us X minutes?”

We might think it’s obvious that when things are broken we try to fix them, but it does help to let the client know that you are aware of the problem and working on it. Respect their time by giving them a generous estimate of how long it will take to fix so they can do something else in the meantime instead of waiting on you.

X messed up” = “There’s been an issue, we’re doing xyz to fix it.”

Blaming other people never looks professional and doesn’t help the situation. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, it only matters what’s being done about it.

“I messed up” = “I messed up”.

Own it. Sometimes it’s prudent not to discuss it in front of a client, but at least be honest and open with your colleagues. It isn’t the mistakes you make, it’s how you deal with them that’s important.

“I’m crap at that” = “That is not one of my strengths/I’m still learning that”.

If you talk yourself down people will believe you. No one is perfect at everything, but you can acknowledge your weaknesses without sounding like someone not worth employing. Seeing skills as things that can be worked on and improved, rather than dictated at birth, is an incredibly powerful trait that is correlated with long-term success. The same goes for commenting on your colleagues’ abilities. We’re all constantly learning and improving. Be kind.

“I’m so stressed out” = “I’m so excited”.

If you’re stressed, it’s because you care. If you’re doing something that’s worth caring about, that’s exciting! Take that nervous energy and adrenaline and see it as a sign that you’re doing something worthwhile.

You don’t need to speak like a corporate slimeball, constantly using overcomplicated euphemisms and cliches, to be seen as professional. In fact, that would be counterproductive. However, there is more power in our words than we realise, and choosing them more considerately can improve our mood, our lives, and our career prospects.


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