How to find the right words when you need them

smartgirlcover1I am delighted that people are finding my new book, The Smart Girl’s Guide To Getting What You Want, helpful and are appreciating its practical tips and advice.

Here are some readers’ comments:

‘A must-read guide for anyone interested in gaining the confidence to speak up without fear’
‘Fun, educational and inspirational’
‘In some ways, I think this book has changed my life’

It’s great to hear it confirmed that we can acquire the confidence and  knowhow to communicate more effectively in every area of our life. Little things can help enormously. Sometimes, having the knowledge of what to say gives us the power to say it.

We’ve all been lost for words. It’s a frustrating and infuriating situation to be in, when the ability to say what we want to say deserts us just when we need it most.

An unexpected sharp comment, criticism, request, compliment can leave us open-mouthed and speechless. Well, not exactly speechless, but incapable of uttering more than a response which is totally inadequate.

Why does this happen? Sometimes it’s because we are taken by surprise. You thought you knew where a conversation was going, then something is said which takes your breath away. Sometimes it’s because the emotion which is triggered is so overwhelming that for a moment you can’t think clearly. Your brain shuts down and is unable to marshal the right words.

Often, there is then the frustrating aftermath, when you think of the perfect reply, too late. Oh, you think, I know what I should have said, and you kick yourself for not having been sufficiently on the ball.

The French (of course) have a lovely phrase for this. It’s called ‘l’esprit de l’escalier’, which roughly translates as ‘staircase wit’. This is the smart observation which occurs to you when you have left the party or the dinner table and are at the foot of the stairs on the way out. It’s impossible to shoot back up the stairs and say ‘You know when you said such-and-such? Well…’

For those of us who don’t have elegant gatherings on the first floor of our imposing mansion, the perfect reply comes to us in the car or on the bus or train, or the next day when we are shopping or doing the washing-up. Next time, we vow…only to have the same thing happen again.

Although the unexpected will always happen, there are some situations which we can predict. You may know what you would like to say when:

  • Your boss asks you to work late, again
  • Someone is rude to you
  • Your mother-in-law makes another not-very-funny joke about your housekeeping
  • You can’t afford the restaurant/holiday/trip which is being proposed
  • You hear unpleasant gossip about your best mate
  • Your teenage son/daughter broke your agreement about schoolnight activities

And so on.

Here’s how you can prepare for these occasions.

  • Find the right words. There are lots of examples in my book, which you can adapt to suit your own voice and your own circumstances. (Be careful not to dilute the message.)
  • Write them down – really. Use whatever suits you, a notebook, a scrap of paper, the back of a table napkin, but get them committed to paper. The actual process of writing will help you to remember the words and make them yours.
  • Practise saying them aloud – yes, really. You may feel stupid at first, but look on it as an actor’s rehearsal, which in a way it is.
  • Experiment until you get the tone of voice and pace of speaking which you want. You could get on board a trusted person who will listen and give you feedback.

Once you are familiar with the words and phrases you want to use, they become part of your communication repertoire, and the thought of delivering them is less daunting. Being at ease with the form and content also gives you a basis from which you can improvise, if necessary.

So next time you mull over an exchange, as you leave the posh venue with its escalier or are on your way home from work or a social event or a family gathering, you should be able to congratulate yourself on giving just the right response.