What a Difference a Word Can Make!

Last week I participated in a BPS Communication Skill webinar.  As I reflected on my key takeouts, the standout that I’ll be experimenting with is changing just one word – ‘anything’ to ‘something’.  Over the last few days, all the people I’ve discussed it with agree that it just seems to make sense and they’re going to give it a go too!  So I thought I’d share…

The research came from John Heritage and Jeffrey Robinson, who are American conversational analysts.  They ran studies on medical consultations between doctors and their patients.  Their experiments into phrasing and language showed that by doctors concluding their session with “Is there something else we need to deal with today?”, as opposed to “Is there anything else?”, there was an uplift in patients voicing further concerns.  It seems that ‘anything’ has more negative associations, whereas ‘something’ has more positive associations infers that there is more to discuss.

How many times have I finished a meeting by asking “Is there anything else?”, to receive a “no” in response, even in situations where I’m sure there is more to uncover.  For people who are involved in meetings where a key objective is to elicit information, changing this one word could have a great result: managers involved in performance conversations with their team; sales people working with clients to understand their needs; facilitators helping a group work through a challenging issue etc, it’s definitely worth a try!

So, before I think of something else, I’m going to sign off and prepare my questions for my next meeting!

Sam Eddleston
Learning Curator and Team Coach

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