How to Say What You Really Mean (3 Great Tips)

in growth.

Too bad saying what we really mean to say isn’t that easy. Even those of us who are on the blunter side of the communication spectrum can find ourselves inventing phrases and trying to come up with the right things to say.

I collected what I feel are the three best pieces of advice on this topic – and they are short and sweet. Keep these in your back pocket! A good strategy is to focus on one that you will work toward mastering, rather than trying to implement all of the ideas at the same time (which may overwhelm you).

1. Uncover your hidden messages, and then craft the communication that speaks the truth.

In this article, Bert Webb talks about hidden messages. The example he gives is of his secretary telling a client who asked to see Mr. Webb as soon as possible that he “could not see” Mr. Webb until late the following week, because Mr. Webb’s “calendar was so full.” His secretary probably didn’t mean to tell the client that he was just too unimportant for Mr. Webb, but that’s the message that came across.

If his secretary meant that the client could see Mr. Webb next week, well, that’s what she should have said and then asked to book the appointment. This situation doesn’t call for additional context that may actually mess up the whole thing.

2. Understand what words mean before using them.

I like how A Mountain Momma talks about the use of the word tolerate (and its various forms), and why it doesn’t work in the context of political discussions (think: we should be more “tolerant”). She’s right, particularly in the larger sense of saying what we really mean. We use words that we don’t understand fully, because we grow up hearing them used in a certain context and don’t bother to research those words ourselves. In her post, she is saying that people use tolerate when what they really mean is different than that, because to tolerate is to allow. In the context of racism, for example, there is no such need for you to simply tolerate other races. Your allowance isn’t required, after all. Perhaps respect would be a more suitable term in many cases.

Bottom line: Know what words really mean before using them. Broaden your vocabulary beyond simple knowledge to keen understanding.

3. Keep the Niceties for Date Night, Not Work

This is a personal favorite of mine, even though it is easier said than done for many people. Essentially, what this Forbes article is saying is that cutting the bull/B.S. is going to take you a lot further in your communication than beating around the bush, hinting at things, or worse, saying what “you’d really like” to have.

In other words, if you want the report/project/task done this week, ask for it to be done this week. Don’t say that it’d be great to have it this week or that you’d really like that. That may not get the message across. What if the person you’re speaking  to isn’t overly concerned with what you’d really like?


Think about it.

Image credit: photostock

Leave a Comment


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin February 8, 2013 at 8:22 am

I agree Tia. We need to be around people who are comfortable with our “frankness” without feeling frightened or feeling less than. We all feel better when we get something off our chest because holding it in begins to eat away at us.

Take Care.

Celisa February 7, 2013 at 11:30 pm

I love this list I think i do almost everything on this list but i am not sure. i really like a guy and i am just always myself, but he hasnt asked me out. my friends say that he likes me, but he is just really nerveous around girls

celica February 1, 2013 at 1:36 am

I’m curious about how you instructed your secretary about choosing her words differently. We have a similar situation and I’d like to learn how to teach my assistant to convey the message I want our customers to receive.
Thank you for a great post!

Tobias Sjösten January 31, 2013 at 3:10 am

Good pointers! I especially wish more people would take #3 to heart.

Lexi January 30, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Understanding what words meant is one of the easiest ways to convey what you want to say effectively. Also, it saves you from hurting other’s people feelings just because you didn’t choose your words wisely! 😀

Rohan Shankar January 30, 2013 at 11:35 am

Understand what you say was the key point of this article according to me. Well done!

Rudee January 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm

I guess this has been the story of my life cutting through the bull/B.S. But at the end of the day most people what I mean, they know where they stand, and there is no question of what I want. I think when you reach my age, which is 66 years old, you really don’t have the time to waste. When you are younger you feel you have all the time in the world to get your point across. Great article

Tia Peterson January 29, 2013 at 11:51 pm

HI Rudee,

Welcome to bizchickblogs. I think younger people ought to learn these lessons now. We do feel that we have more time, but it’s misleading. Now is the very best time to say what we mean.

Thank you for commenting!

MiciROX January 29, 2013 at 10:43 am

Yeah I actually do myself grasping sometimes for the right words. I think to improve this, I have to try to expand my vocabulary and practice oral speaking. And yeah, there is always a better way of saying things, I like your examples.

Tia Peterson January 29, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Thank you! Glad you got something out of this!

Daniel January 29, 2013 at 10:42 am

Hi, I like the points you have made about word choices. Lots of miscommunication happen because we all have our own take on what a word or phrase means. I try to say what I mean but tend to be the type to beat around the bush to soften what I’m trying to say. Doesn’t always work.

Tia Peterson January 29, 2013 at 11:54 pm

HI Daniel,

Thanks for your perspective! You’re not the only one beating around the bush. It’s so common. I think when we do, we don’t give the other person enough credit. In a way, we’re sort of handling them with kid gloves. What do you think?

Dennis Dilday January 29, 2013 at 10:13 am

I couldn’t agree more on the importance of word choice. And it’s no fun having to guess at what the real or intended message is. It is, however, sometimes necessary to allude to the “full” meaning of a message in order to get the listener to think. Simply giving the answer to a question often fails to educate or inform the other person effectively (think Socratic Method).

I recently read a viral email message about a guy whose wife sent him to the store to buy something (milk) and said, “if they have six” to get something else as well. She meant six of the something elses; he brought back six containers of milk. Seems we all have to be more tolerant – ask for feedback, and clarify:-)

Great post! Thanks.

Tia Peterson January 30, 2013 at 12:04 am

HI Dennis, I just typed up this super comment using my Kindle and touched something, and now it’s gone. 🙂 I think it was a sign that I should just say thanks for your comment, and I can very much relate to the wife! I over explain to the point of confusion occasionally.

Previous post:

Next post: