“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

You may have grown up with this children’s rhyme, or a variation of it. It was a phrase shared to us by our parents to encourage us to brush off bad things other children might say to us and help us not retaliate. While their intention was good, as they were probably trying to teach us to be resilient, how effective it was, is another matter!

The intention and meaning was meant to be, “your words have no power over me.” We were taught to say this even if the words stung. Sometimes we were probably better than others at stopping those barbed words from piercing through our flimsier-than-we’d-like-to-admit defences.

Let’s be honest, even though we know that words don’t directly inflict physical damage, we also know the power they have to cause mental distress and long-term issues of self-esteem and confidence. Physical bruises heal; mental ones can linger for years, or a lifetime even.

If you’ve watched the series Who Dares Wins, you’ll know that the tests contestants are put through are just as much a test of their mental strength as they are physical. The staff seek to find weak points that they can take out an hold up to the light, and the interrogators use negative, inflammatory language designed to rile and attack participant’s self-esteem and resolve.

So, it’s not really true that words will never hurt, although it is true that we all have the power to choose how we let those words affect us.

In the examples above, words are chosen deliberately to try to hurt and undermine. Yet it’s also the case that we often inadvertently hurt or upset people through unthinking word choice, and then wonder why our communication isn’t taking the course we’d hoped for. Cue metaphorical doors being slammed shut while the rest of our words bounce uselessly off the door frame.

The power of words to hurt is clear.

Yet so too is the power of words to lift us up, inspire, motivate and connect us.

The magic of words

Words are magical and the possibilities for communication are endless. If you consider the many songs and pieces of music that have been created over the centuries from a comparatively limited choice of notes, think now of the capacity to create stories and other types of communication through hundreds of thousands of words.

It’s how we use those words that counts.

Thinking back to Who Dares Wins, the staff also use motivational language to pick participants up and re-energise and motivate them. They expertly judge when is the time to pull them apart to see what they’re made of, and when is the time to put them back together. Language plays a critical role in this but so too do the observational skills of the staff.


Using our senses

When we choose our words consciously and carefully, we have the ability to change a situation. We also have the power to change people, or to help them change themselves.

Essential to conscious communication is the ability to be sensitive to other people. Did you know that one of the meanings of the word sensitive is being quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals and influences?



And therein lies the key to communicating consciously. By using our senses, we are able to detect even small changes in the message recipient’s body language, expressions, tone and behaviour which help inform us about how to recalibrate our communication – and choice of words – to achieve a positive outcome.

In Who Dares Wins the staff use their senses to tell them when to recalibrate and use a different approach to get a different performance from the participant.

Special Forces training is something that tests people to extremes using highly skilled trainers and isn’t something we see in everyday life. Yet the principles apply all the same. To build rapport and establish connection, we need to use our senses and adjust our behaviour accordingly.

You raise me up

Think back to the speeches of Martin Luther King. We all remember his “I have a dream…” speech. He expertly captured the mood of the crowd and used his words to drive change at a societal level, simply by lifting people up and inspiring them in powerful words delivered with passion and intensity.


The power of words to move many is limitless.

The power of words to change one person is also immense.  By talking to someone in words that motivate and inspire them, and by watching for subtle changes in their behaviour so that we know our words are making a positive mark, we can help them to feel differently about themselves. By helping them to change their self-talk, i.e. the words they use on themselves, we can help them to banish their limiting beliefs.

So how can you ensure that you’re communicating in the most right way?

By using NLP of course!

NLP teaches us about the power of language and how to use it to best effect to get the desired outcome.

Here are six NLP tips for communication that motivates and builds connection:

Establish rapport and listen to the other person

Get to know them and build a relationship with them. Use your senses to learn what language resonates with them and what doesn’t.

Calibrate your response

Use your senses to tell you when your words are having a positive effect and when they are achieving the opposite. Adjust and try a different approach if the outcome isn’t what you were hoping for.

Know your outcome

Know what outcome you’re looking to achieve and use words that support that outcome, i.e. to motivate, inspire and lift them up.

Take responsibility

Responsibility for the communication lies 100% with you. And 100% with the other person too. If you assume responsibility for the communication, you’re more likely to get a positive outcome.

Shift perspectives and ask questions

Try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, using questions to understand their position.

Use positive language that they understand

Find words that resonate with the other person and positively motivate them.


You can use some of the same techniques on yourself too, to change your self-talk. Why not give it a try?!

When you have so many words to choose from, why choose anything other than words which build rapport and connection and lift people up?

If you’d like to know more about how NLP can help you to inspire yourself and others, please get in touch on the contact page.