Accountability, Part III, The Power of Language

Accountability, Part III

The Power of Language

Accountability is:  the ability to account for my choices and my results.  The value of holding yourself accountable at all times is that it provides true ability to make change and get what you want.  True power.  For thorough discussion, please go to the two prior months’ blogs.  In this and the next few blogs, I will discuss specific ways to see where you are, and are not, being accountable.  And I will offer ways to shift to a more accountable way of being.  Your level of victimhood, as it were, is fairly engrained and the result of years of practice.  So you will need to commit to specific new practices in order to make specific change.

The quickest, easiest way to make this change is to listen to your language.

Examples of Victim Language

  • There is nothing I can do
  • I have/had no choice
  • I hope it will change
  • I wish it was different
  • I can’t
  • The circumstances (fill in the blank –      weather, other people, etc.) caused this to happen
  • I have no control over it
  • Who’s to blame?
  • I tried!
  • I found myself here
  • It happened to me
  • Passive language such as “It didn’t      get done.”


Accountable Language

  • What is possible?
  • What can I do here/now?
  • I am responsible.  I decide what I am committed to.
  • How did I create this?
  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • What action can I take?
  • I chose
  • I am choosing
  • Active language of ownership – “this      was my part in it” “this was my choice”
  • “I did” or “I didn’t”
  • I will
  • I can
  • What is my part in this?
  • What do I have control over?
  • What can we change?

When you hear victim language come out of your mouth (or even in your head), it gives you valuable information.  It tells you where  you are feeling powerless.

Example:  My boss says to me, “Are you done with the proposal yet?”  I hear myself say, “I have been trying.”  Hearing this language is a trigger for me to ask myself what is really true about the situation?  I realize that I am feeling overwhelmed and a little guilty that I haven’t finished it yet.  I say I am “trying” in order to point out to him and myself that I have taken action; I have not been just sitting around.

With this insight, I can speak from a place of ownership and also much clearer language.  When he asks the question, I can say, “No.  I am not done.”  Realizing I want him to know I have been working on it, I can tell him that.  Taking ownership, though, I also will say, “I did not plan my time in a way to be done by today.  I realize why I am not done yet.  Taking this into consideration, I will make some changes and I can promise you that I will be done by ___.”

As you can see, the first use of language observation is to see where you are really coming from – do I feel I have power in this situation or not?  Another way to work with language observation is to change your language to become more accountable, which of course means empowered to make change.  The language you use affects your feelings, your energy level and your belief in yourself.  Begin to listen to your victim language and notice when you speak from a place of unempowered, or victim.  Then interrupt that pattern by changing it to an accountable statement.  You will be surprised what is possible when you simply change your language.

In addition to the language examples above, eliminate the word “try” from your language.  “Try” is a powerless word.  When projecting forward (“I will try”) it offers very little information or ownership.  When reflecting to the past (“I tried”), it is a victim statement.  If someone says to you, “Will you do this for me?” and you begin to say, “I’ll try,” stop yourself and state what you really mean without the word “try.”  This requires you look and see what you are really willing to commit to.  You might say, “Yes I’ll do it, but not until ____.”  You might say, “I don’t know if I will get it done and I am not going to promise right now.”  (This one is important in recognizing that when someone asks you to do something and you say “yes,” you have made a promise.)  Or you might say, “No.”

The same applies when you make agreements with yourself.  Listen to your language.  Use accountable language.

Other language of this caliber is the following:

“I need to…”

“I wish…”

“I hope…”

These are not accountable phrases because they are by their very nature giving power away and refusing to take ownership.  “I need to” is a statement of what is, but not a statement of what I will commit to change.  “I wish and hope” are obviously ineffectual statements that very clearly say I do not have power over this.


Put up a reminder – perhaps the lists of phrases above – somewhere in your workspace or home environment.  It will take conscious effort and commitment to make this change, but you will be amazed what ensues when you begin to speak from ownership.

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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