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EP 251: Powerful Language and Its Effect When You’re Relaunching with Julie Holunga, rebroadcast

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Episode Description

How can relaunchers ensure they are making the best impression while networking, at a professional conference, and even in an interview? Today’s episode is a rebroadcast of an earlier episode with guest, Julie Holunga, executive coach and founder of Chinook Executive Solutions. Julie asserts that relaunchers should be deliberate about the words they use – presenting themselves with confidence and thereby projecting confidence about themselves onto others. Noting mirror-neuron studies that suggest that our body language and vocabulary have a mirror effect on those with whom we interact, Julie provides numerous examples of weak vocabulary and replacement words that will help employers focus on what you are, not what you’re not.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we talk about strategies, advice, and success stories for returning to work after taking a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO of iRelaunch. Today's interview is a rerun of a past episode. We do this from time to time so that our newer listeners don't miss out on the gems of helpful information and inspiring stories that have been shared in the past. And we think they're great to listen to again, if you've heard them before. And today I'm very excited that we are speaking with Julie Holunga about the topic of the importance of a strong vocabulary.

Julie is going to elaborate on why this is so important for relaunchers and the different context in which strong language is important, and we can't wait to have that conversation. Julie is a leadership trainer and coach. Her company is Chinook Executive Solutions, and Julie and I go way back, because years ago she was our first employee at iRelaunch before she launched her coaching career.

Hi, Julie, thanks for being with us today.

Julie Holunga: Hey, Carol, it's great to talk to you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes. I'm very excited to have this conversation and be talking about this topic of strong vocabulary. Before we get going with some of the specific questions that we have for you, can you just comment more broadly about why you feel strongly about language and strong language and some of these contexts in which it's really important?

Julie Holunga: Sure. So this is what I've noticed, Carol, that we go to conferences or we're listening to podcasts or NPR, or really any format where there is someone who has presented themselves as an expert or has been brought in as an expert. And when we use, and when they use weak language, what happens is we subconsciously and sometimes consciously stop listening or discount what they're trying to tell us.

So that's in a broad context. I hear people often sitting on a panel will say, I'm not an expert on this, or, I haven't written a book a about this, or the person down at the other end of the table knows more about this than I do, and what happens is our audience then starts thinking, why is she sitting up there?

Or they might not even be conscious of it, but they're going to discount what you're saying. And this happens in one-on-one conversations as well, where, if you're in an interview or maybe you're networking with someone it comes up a lot. You don't need to give your audience any reason not to listen to you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So it's kind of using a qualifier of some kind to discount your expertise one way or the other.

Julie Holunga: Exactly.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And does this include those verbal ticks, I guess I'll call them, like saying like, or, I don't know, some other kind of, or just, well, I think. Okay, it's not only, is it how you say, and how you deliver the message that you have in addition to the actual words that you pick and are there certain words that we're gonna talk about that are kind of the worst offenders in terms of being qualifiers?

Julie Holunga: Exactly. It is. And it's how you present what maybe an opinion or your conviction around something, and I'm gonna give you some great tips of words you're gonna stop using as of today, and ones that you can replace them with and words that you can use that are certainly more powerful. But it's also, I've seen, Carol, and I poke in front of you here for your California roots, but I do hear a lot of the uptick. And where people have an uptick at the end of their sentence, so it sounds like a question, that's another way to, to diminish yourself. I also notice this with Canadians being married to a Canadian. I can poke fun of him as well, but , they come down and in their voice. So they're talking and then they just lose the volume or they, and so it loses the impact.

And while we're speaking, we want people to believe in what we are saying. And there's certain things that we do that we may not even be aware of, that we get in our own way. And that's what I really would love to share with the iRelaunch audience about what they can do and small changes that they can make that will allow them to have a greater impact on whoever they are speaking with.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So now I'm gonna be very self-conscious as I'm speaking today during the podcast about my tone and inflection and the word choices that I'm making. So maybe we should just launch right into this, and Julie, can you list a few examples, or some of this language, so people know right off the bat some very practical tips for how they should speak and what words they should choose or avoid.

Julie Holunga: Sure. So you've mentioned a couple of them already. The first one that is one of my biggest pet peeves is apologizing. Saying sorry. There are times when you need to apologize, you're late for a meeting, or you interrupted someone, or perhaps you jumped in when you weren't supposed to. But it's not okay to apologize all the time.

And what happens is that people then when you do apologize, because you piss them off or you interrupted them, they don't hear it. So you don't need to apologize at the start of every sentence by saying, Sorry, this may be a dumb question or, Sorry, do you have a second? Just jump in. Do you have a second? I have a question for you. And you just eliminate that word, so that's one of my biggest pet peeves. When we lived in Canada, it was, Pardon, it's the same thing, no matter what the word is. So you don't need to do it.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So pardon and sorry. I wrote that down. Number one words to avoid.

Julie Holunga: Okay. The next one that I notice a lot of people using unnecessarily is the word "just." Carol, I'm sure we are all guilty of this expression, especially in written form. I'm just checking in to see if you had a chance to review that proposal I sent over. It's again, you're minimizing the impact you're trying to have, you're minimizing that you are an expert and you know what you're doing.

And in that example, you have a great product or service to deliver. So instead if that is, if you are writing someone to ask, did you review the proposal? Start off with that. So dear Carol, have you had a chance to review the proposal I sent over? You can just eliminate that word. Now you probably just picked up that I use the word just, but that's in a different context. So it's okay.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I know I I'm guilty of this and I actually now go through an exercise after I write an email before I send it, I look for the "justs" and I see if they're there and I take them out, because I've been trying to retrain myself and I'm in the process of doing that.

Julie Holunga: And that is the best way to do it, Carol, is to start with your writing and then that will have an impact on the words, the spoken words that you use.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. Good. All right. So I have just, sorry, and pardon. And then I have just written down and...

Julie Holunga: I have a tip for you, there is a Google plugin called Just Not Sorry, it’s like a spell check.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that. Love the name.

Julie Holunga: Yes. Like a spell check, it will underline weak words, and they are adding words constantly. So if you have phrased a sentence in a weak way, this is a tool. It only works if you're in Gmail, but it's phenomenal.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Huh? Thank you. I've never heard of that before. Love it. Love the idea. Love the name of it. I'm going to make a note of it. We'll put that out there and I'll say that it was a special recommendation from you, Julie. Thank you. All right, so what's our next word?

Julie Holunga: So the next one is, I believe, or I think. And this is, I often get pushback when I talk to groups of people about this. And what, and I, this is one that really bugs me, Carol, because I hear it from experts from best selling authors.

And they say, I think that we should do X, Y, and Z. And the impact that has is that people are expecting that expertise. If you are a service provider, you're a consultant, you're an attorney, you're a CPA, and you say to your clients, I think we should do ABC. What's going through that other person's mind is, do you think, or do you know?

So again, it shows that you are not, you do not have a strong conviction in your recommendation. I have a client, Carol, who is a seasoned attorney, she's phenomenal, very well respected, and she recently shared a story with me that early on in her career, she was still an associate about a fifth year associate.

She sent an email to her client and said, I think we should do this. And the client wrote back to her immediately and said, do you not believe this? What's going on? What do you mean you think? Do you know? And she, and she was really thrown from this. And so we talked that through and I was very pleased to hear that now, when she is writing that same sentence to a client, she says, I recommend we pursue this course of action, or I am confident that this is the path we should take.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I like that language. I recommend we pursue this course of action. Okay. Because that's another one I'm also guilty of that, and I have been working in the same way to get rid of the, just, I also have been getting ready of the, I thinks, but I do take that moment before I send, because it's just, I just, I'm not out of the habit yet.

So I have to take the extra step to remove the “I thinks” and “just,” as opposed to them not being there in the first place, but I'll get there.

Julie Holunga: And it takes time. It's not something that happens overnight. In the same context, the word maybe we should publish this book next year instead,
it doesn't have the same conviction as saying my recommendation is we wait until 2019 to publish the book. You see the difference there.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I'm actually writing these down.

Julie Holunga: Oh, good. Carol, the last one I would share, and I have many more, but we just have so much time today. The last thing I would share that we need to be very conscious of is to stop prefacing. I already gave an example of this, and I'm gonna say it again because we all do this. Sorry to bother you, do you have a minute? Or sorry for the interruption, or I have a dumb question. We don't need that. None of that language is useful, is doing anything in a positive manner. If you have a question, jump in and ask your question.

If you want to interrupt someone, knock on the door and say, do you have a second? It's as simple as that. We don't need to preface it because it, again, and particularly Carol, with women, it puts us in a position that is beneath where we actually are and takes away our intelligence or any sort of power that we may have.

And I don't mean that in the sense of I'm in charge and I'm controlling this situation, but putting our best foot forward and being the most articulate and thoughtful person in order to impact those around us and influence them.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Julie, can we go into some more examples of what words we should start using instead, or particular situations, anecdotes that you have, illustrating either poorly used language or ideally used language, or is, are there some other piece of this that you wanna make sure that we cover before we get back into that part?

Julie Holunga: Yeah. So here are some powerful words, Carol, get your pen ready, because you can write these ones down as well. So I've alluded to some of this, but to start a sentence by saying, I know, instead of I believe, or I think. You can say, I am confident that this is the correct course of action.

I suggest, along those same lines we were talking before about my attorney client, I recommend, same idea.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I like I recommend that's good.

Julie Holunga: Yes. One of my favorites is to say, I am convinced that in pursuing this action we will succeed, because this is the beauty of what happens when we use powerful words, we increase our confidence. It's what is happening in the brain. To the same extent when we say, I think, or it's that weak language, we diminish our confidence. When we say words, and I notice this Carol with people, when they use powerful language, their body language changes, they sit up taller, they smile, they make eye contact.

So it's the whole package that comes together. And what I see happening is then people say, that's a really good idea, Carol, I hadn't thought of it that way. Because there's what's going on in the brain is we have these mirror neurons that are reflecting that positive feeling and confidence out to our audience and their brain is picking up on it with their mirror neurons and reflecting that positive confident energy.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So you're saying there, there are actual chemical changes in the brain that happen when you use this kind of language on both the speaking and receiving end.

Julie Holunga: Exactly.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You're listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we talk about strategies, advice, and success stories for returning to work after taking a career break.

I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch and your host for today. And I'm very excited to be speaking with Julie Holunga, who is a leadership trainer and coach, and her company is Chinook Executive Solutions. And Julie and I go way back because she was our very first employee years ago for iRelaunch before she launched her coaching career.

And we're deep into a conversation about strong vocabulary and language and words to avoid and words to use instead. Julie, I kind of cut you off there, are there any other specific words that we should be aware of, or anything else we should know about the changes that happen in the delivery when we use this kind of language?

Julie Holunga: Sure. Besides what we just talked about in terms of confidence, what I see happening is that conversations flow a lot better, decisions get made. People react well to you when you use strong language. So one of the things that happens when these mirror neurons are reflecting a lack of confidence, or maybe a certain sense of desperation, is that they will come away and say, I don't know what it was, but I don't think Julie's the right fit for us.

And they may not be able to pinpoint it. They're not gonna certainly come away and say she used really weak language. I would be surprised if that happened. On the other hand, I have heard countless stories. We've heard it from the recruiters that we worked with at the return to work conference, people like certain people and they can't always put their finger on it.

But when those mirror neurons are reflecting confidence and a certainty in oneself, they say wow, she was great, I really enjoyed meeting with her. And it's just responding to something. It's not that they're saying, oh, she has, this is experience on her resume. That might be part of it, but it's that human interaction.

Carol, I'm sure I've shared this story with you. When I worked at Harvard Business School, we interviewed a woman who had been out of the traditional workforce at that time. It was just under 12 years, she had two kids. They had lived in Paris for a while. She had just returned to Boston and there was a group of us who interviewed her.

And when she walked out, all of us were blown away and we said, oh, she was fantastic. She's just amazing. The way she spoke, she really knows what she's talking about, but no one had even mentioned that she had this 12 year career break. And that did not come up. She was hired. She has progressed so much since then.

That is, almost 12 years ago now that she was brought on 11 years ago, and she has just risen through the ranks. And what it was we were responding to was yes, she was prepared, yes, she had done her research, but she was articulate. It was her how she presented herself, what she was putting out there.

And it was that at the time, I didn't know this, but now I know, it was those neurons in my brain, responding to what she was putting out there, those mirror neurons. And it was just phenomenal.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's a great story. We advise people, who are relaunching careers because, when we're relaunching, we're usually in our forties or fifties, sometimes even in our sixties.

And so people get concerned about ageism, and we respond that the antidote to ageism is subject matter expertise. So we recommend how people can find out about experts in their field, and understand what the best resources are, in terms of websites and blogs to follow and books to read.

And then we tell them they have to go ahead and read those blogs and articles and books and listen to the experts and get really up to speed. But the next step after that is communicating the subject matter expertise at a professional conference or in a job interview. And by doing that in an energetic and excited and forceful way, not, I don't mean aggressive, but just putting out the information, number one, you're having conversations that are much more substantive instead of having to make some awkward, small talk at some of these events. And number two, you are able to get people to focus more on the substance of what you're talking about as opposed to your age or the length of your career break. And that sounds in part, what happened here, at that interview with the woman who was out 12 years, but, can you talk a little bit about the way you deliver material, or the way you deliver this language in addition to words themselves?

Julie Holunga: And that's a very good point. When you want to, I love that you said assertive and then you backed off a little bit Carol, but you're in fact that's exactly right. And, we could have a whole nother conversation about the negative connotations of assertiveness and the gender stuff there.

But your point is exactly right. You want to demonstrate your excitement or a true interest or passion around a specific piece of knowledge. You wanna demonstrate that unique knowledge. It's a great way, if you have truly absorbed the material and learned it, and Carol, I always love your story, that when you decide to go back to work, you started to read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover to get to your knowledge back up.

So when you're doing that kind of thing and you go to an event or you go to a networking meeting or you're at a conference, and you share something that really resonated with you, that passion and that excitement comes through. Because you're speaking, then when you're excited about something, you're speaking about it with conviction and you're not backing down.

So if you read an article and you read it quickly and you maybe just grasped the kind of superficial meaning around it, you're not going to be able to speak with that same confidence and that same articulation. So find that piece of content, as you described, Carol, that really resonates with you, that you enjoy, that you would like to continue reading. Valerie Cherneski, who I know has done a few podcasts for you and spoken at your conferences, as one of the iRelaunch coaches, one day shared with me that she had read, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhig, and we both love that book. And what she shared with me was that she had read that book very quickly and because that's an area of expertise of hers, it's a topic that she loves. So for her to read that book, it's a quick read because she just can't get enough of it. Whereas some other books, she's not, it takes her a little bit longer. It's on her desk for a while. We all have those piles of books. So that you do make a very good point, that's a very natural way to, to share your excitement in combination with using strong and powerful language.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. So any other examples you wanna share with us of words not to use, words to use, or anything about having the context of having those conversations?

Julie Holunga: Sure. Any time that you are speaking, and again, this is one on one, this is in a group setting, this is at a conference.

You never wanna give your audience a reason not to listen to you. So if you're sitting on a panel and there is someone sitting next to you who has more experience or has written a best selling book, or, maybe was recently interviewed on CNN, then, you don't need to tell the audience that you're not as versed as that person.

That's irrelevant. You are an expert. Carol, we all look at our children's elementary math, the new math. I know how to do division, but the way that they do it these days, I can't figure out. I don't need to tell my daughter, I don't know what I'm doing here. We don't need to verbalize that piece of it.

We have our expertise. We need to remind ourselves that we have an expertise. I would say to you, I am a leadership coach. I've worked with over a thousand mid-career professional women. And I work with them on ensuring that they use strong language to have the greatest impact and influence with people around them.

I don't need to share with you, Carol, that I'm not the world's leading expert in linguistics, nor have I written a bestselling book about this. I don't need to share that information with my audience.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And the reason you might be on that panel is to give that perspective of being a practitioner, advising practitioners, which is a perfect compliment to the academic or the subject matter expert who might have written the book.

So I love this idea of not calling out some sort of relative evaluation of yourself based on who you're sitting up on the panel with, but instead, just assuming I'm up here for a reason and giving your perspective.

Julie Holunga: That's exactly right. And I often say to people that I take the published works, I take the best books out there and I translate it into a way that it's practical for my clients to use. And perhaps an author isn't interested in that. So there's a combination of those things, but Carol, it's not just sitting up on a panel. You could be networking with someone, you could be at the return to work conference, you could be in an interview.

There is no reason to disqualify yourself. Rather, qualify yourself. I have done this. I have worked with this many people, or I have 20 years of experience doing X, Y, and Z .That you focus on that.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That is great, great advice, especially for relaunchers when we find ourselves in job search fairs or professional organizations and people are asking us, what do we do, or what are we looking for, and or what our background is, or even in the interview, and being able to just come out with the statement of that, I have X number of years of experience in technical sales. As opposed to this was ancient history, but way back in 1995, I was doing technical sales.

Julie Holunga: Exactly. Exactly. You don't need to remind them of this. And Carol, I always love how you talk about, you address your break, but that you're really having people focus on ‘I'm excited about working at this organization,’ and I love that as a company, your values are, or you're talking about what’s forward.

They don't need to know what happened in 1995. They don't need to know what you look like as a soccer mom, which is my favorite picture, Carol, of you doing carpool. That's not what you want to emphasize, especially if you might only have, if you're at a conference and you're walking around and talking to a bunch of people, and you have two or three minutes of their attention, do you really want the two or three minutes focused on what you're not as opposed to this is who I am.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, that's exactly, you're gonna say, I took a career break to care for my children, and now I can't wait to come back to work. In fact, the reason I'm so excited to be here is because in this particular role, I have relevant experience from when I worked at Xerox, we faced very similar customer challenges.

So again, you're just, you're putting it out there and you're talking about the past as if it happened yesterday. And I guess that's consistent with what you're advising Julie, in terms of strong language and strong presentation. This is pretty much all we have time for. Time flies so quickly.

So, we're so thrilled to be talking with Julie Holunga. Before we finally wrap up, Julie, can you give us one piece of advice for our listeners about strong language, even if it's something that you've already said during our conversation today?

Julie Holunga: Sure. The biggest piece of advice I'd give to you is to slow down. Be deliberate about the words that you choose, and you can make this change.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's excellent. Thank you. And can you also please tell us how people can find out more information about Chinook Executive Solutions?

Julie Holunga: Sure. So I think I need to change my website, but you can go to Chinook C H I N O O K Executive I'm also on Facebook and LinkedIn, and I would love to hear from the audience, the words that they have stopped using and the ones that they're going to start using.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That sounds great. Thank you so much for your advice today. You've been listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we talk about strategies, advice, and success stories for returning to work after a career break.

I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO of iRelaunch and your host today. If you like this podcast, be sure to rate it on iTunes and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

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