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The Power of Language

Power of Words graphic accountability

In coaching, we are all about change and growth and getting what you say you want. In support of this is our concept of “accountability” as, “the ability to account for my choices and my results.” This means when we make a mistake, we are neutral and we look at what we have done (choices) and generated (results) with curiosity and a desire to learn. This is the key to change. For a more thorough discussion, please go here: Empowerment Through Accountability, Part II – McLaren Coaching – Capture Your Success.

Accountability vs. Victim

The opposite of accountability is something we call victimhood. Where accountability is curious and neutral, victimhood is judgmental and fixed. It is a mental orientation to looking outside yourself for the reasons you didn’t get your result. And if you look inside to find why you didn’t achieve your desired outcome, the victim orientation has you leveling harsh criticism and blame on yourself, rather than neutral curiosity. 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.

Observe Your Language

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 her 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 have looked at the situation and 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 ___. I have learned from this and it will not happen again.” In this way I learn something rather than pointing to my powerlessness. It is trust-building to speak in this way. “Tried” and other victim language makes other people not believe in the results you promise them.

Change Your Language

The first step is to observe your language. Another way to shift out of victimhood and create the results you want is to change your language to become more accountable, which of course means empowered to make change.  The language you choose matters. It affects your feelings, your energy level and your belief in yourself.  When you hear your victim language, interrupt that pattern by changing it to an accountable statement.  You will be surprised what is possible when you simply change your language.

Do or Do Not - Yoda graphicParticularly impactful will be to 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.” You are using this word for a reason. Often that is because you want to commit, but you don’t believe that you can. Look and see what you are really committing 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.


Listen to your language to learn what you really feel about the situation. Don’t judge your sense of powerlessness in a given situation, but do admit it. Start to change your language to take ownership for your choices and your results. Everything will change!

On July 12, join us for Coach-Style Leadership, a workshop that will cover accountability and other coaching and leadership skills:

About the Author

Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching attorneys and management since early 2008. She wrote a book, published by the American Bar Association, "Coaching for Attorneys: Improving Productivity and Achieving Balance." She coaches attorneys and managers one-on-one, and provides in-house training designed to improve productivity and bring accountability to the organization.

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