Do you feel frustrated when people don’t seem to understand what you’re trying to say? What is it about our language that doesn’t always convey exactly what we mean?

Whether talking in person with our teenagers, via skype with friends overseas, delivering a presentation, teaching a class or just buying groceries, communication is key to get what we want in any given situation.

I used to get so frustrated when people didn’t get what I was saying, misinterpreted it or twisted it.  However, over the years I have learned that it is not their fault  – it’s mine!

After reading research by Professor Albert Mehrabian, I learned that during conversation our level of communication is split up as follows:

  • 7%  of meaning is the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of meaning is the way that the words are said/attitude/tone.
  • 55% of meaning is in facial expression/body language.

These findings highlight the effectiveness, (or lack of) when using the spoken word to communicate our feelings.  If you think of a conversation you’ve had recently with a difficult teenager you will probably admit that you were not annoyed so much about what they said, but more the way they said it.

Even though people may hear the words we say.  They are more influenced by what they see.

Here are a few ways we communicate without words:

  • Scratch our heads when puzzled.
  • Hand gestures (thumbs up, or rude finger)
  • A look (judgmental, rolling eyes, look away)
  • Shrug our shoulders to indicate that we don’t care.
  • We can’t look someone in the eye (shy or hiding the truth).
  • Honk the horn on the steering wheel when irritated in heavy traffic.
  • Our face changes colour (a tinge of red when embarrassed or angry)

Here are a few ways we communicate with our tone:

  • Growling (annoyed or tired).
  • High pitched (excited or anxious).
  • Low and slow (calming a situation).
  • Huffing (disappointed or displeased).
  • Whistling (drawing attention or disapproval).

It is important to choose your words carefully, especially if only 7% of what you say is actually being heard! 

Our language can often be negative, especially our self-talk.  Some of the negative things we say to ourselves we would never say to a friend.  We tend to be very hard on ourselves and this shows in our use of words.  I hope you find the following list of empowering language uplifting, encouraging and enabling.

Share it with your teenage children to help them create awareness, take responsibility and improve their communication skills.


DISEMPOWERING                        EMPOWERING

I can’t                                                 I can

I should                                              I choose to

I need to                                             I expect to

I hate to                                              I prefer to

I don’t have                                         I will strive for

I’ll try                                                  I will

I’m tired                                              I create energy

I’m stupid                                            I’m learning

I’m stressed                                         I’m in charge

I’m frustrated                                       How can I?

I’m overwhelmed                                  I prioritise

I’m not                                                 I’m not …. Yet

You should                                           Have you considered?

You need to                                          What would happen if?

There is a problem                                This is a challenge

This is difficult                                      How can I simplify this?

She is aggressive                                  She is assertive

Don’t run                                              Walk

Don’t go                                               Stop


How do you talk to yourself? How do you feel you come across to others? SHARE with us in the comments below.

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  • say what you mean and mean what you say.


  • I find this article to be helpful and full of information. I’m terrible at communicating, I just expect everyone to know!


  • I think I am fairly good with this. I saw what is on my mind and I try to engage while I speak and ask questions


  • I agree that often frustration comes from your own poor communication – which often actually adds to the frustration. I don’t agree with (some of) these “positive” turns o the negatives list on the left.


  • Communication is key in all good relationships and has to be maintained all of the time to keep those connections.


  • Constant comment by a 4 y.o. at the moment. “I can’t” He may have done it an hour ago. Another excuse after I can’t is “it’s hard” or “it’s tricky”.
    He dresses amd undresses himself of his own accord when he wants to.
    Both kids put books and toys away sometimes, or they pull one of the refusal stunts.

    • When they say I can’t, gently remind them that they can, it make take effort but is possible. Feeding positive messages to their subconscious will lead to confidence in later years.

      • He says it when he is acting sooky. With a lot of positive discussion we eventually does it himself. If he wants to go to the playground we can’t go until he puts his shoes and socks on. Instant action then.


  • Good article,communication is the key in all areas of our life.


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