A Coaching Power Tool Created by Angela Ognev
(Transformational Coach, SINGAPORE)
We grow up with dictionaries and thesauruses, helping us make sure that how we’re trying to express ourselves is actually how we are understood by other people. Communication is at its best when words have the same definition, meaning, and emotion for each of us. But, as a result, the words we use and imbued with more and more associations over time, more and more words and stories about that word come from other people. Words become triggers for some; they become more powerful in some cases and vague in others.
However, how something is defined (as in, in the dictionary), is not always what it means (how it looks like our life; how it feels, or is significant.)
We may see this when we look how the meaning people get from words like, love, independent, individuality, mindfulness, caring, passion, and so on. To understand and be aware of ourselves, we must use words that mean to us what we mean to say.
When we look at the definition versus meaning, we are doing more than analysing words — we are able to separate, little by little, meaning that make sense for us, and definitions that come from elsewhere and elsewho. We then have the ability to 1) redefine a word, or, 2) choose a new word for the context, and grow with it.
The moment we mean what we mean, we can be and do what feels right. We no longer struggle with the mixture of what we mean and what others have defined.
Having to redefine all of the words to mean what we mean is impossible and not at all necessary. But we want to take a closer look at the words that come up for us. Whether they are positive, like the values we hold, or negative, like the fears or burdens we have, examining what they look like, and feel like, and really mean, allows us to be on-purpose with what we be and do. With meaning, we have flow and joy.
Think about some words that you find yourself using again and again. Take one word and sit with it. How does it feel to hear that word in your head, to whisper it, to shout it? Is it with confusion and exuberance that you say it? Does it feel abstract, like corporate talk, or can you visualise and hear it? Close your eyes and notice what you see and hear when you think about that word. What does that word really mean, outside of its dry definition?
- a statement of the exact meaning of a word, especially in a dictionary.
- the degree of distinctness in outline of an object, image, or sound.
The definition of definition (never thought you’d have to say that, did you), has the word “meaning” in it. However, it is the meaning that comes in a dictionary, a book compiled and revised annually by a board of people coming to agreement. What remains is usually the most unobjectable bit of the word. It is not anything imbued with emotion because those more moving parts were taken out.
The second definition of definition isn’t the one we usually think of but it starts to get a little more relevant. It is what is recognizable — it is taken the vague object, images, and sound, and moving it towards being unique and identifiable. Our meanings for words have this distinctness. Words that are significant to us, feel and strike us in a very distinct way.
Meaning: Noun & Adjective
- what is meant by a word, text, concept, or action.
- intended to communicate something that is not directly expressed.
Unfortunately, the definition of meaning has the word “meant,” in it, so we can dig a little deeper. The definition of mean is “intend to convey or refer to (a particular thing); signify.” These definitions are dry, but what we notice here is that meaning is related to significance — it is about the things we intend to communicate, that we understand deep down but are not directly expressed. Perhaps, it is something far more difficult to express because it is significant. Perhaps, it is just much easier to fall upon words that we use all the time and not question them further.
What does relying on a definition look like?
It is when a word is often repeated, but not questioned. It is a word surrounded by negative energy, slowness, discomfort, and friction. It is a word that can’t be pictured and imagined or felt, but is somehow still important. The word comes into sentences surrounded with words like “can’t” “should” and “shouldn’t.” It is a word next to a shutdown of self-belief for the sake of some rule adopted from others.
Definition is using a word when it does not energise you (and it should.)
On the other hand, definition is using a word as a crutch, as a value you stand for, but really can’t give an example of. Of something you find important, but can say little more than that it’s important.
It can feel bad in unique ways as well. The word feels boring and dry. It drains you of excitement, and shifts your tone of voice. It makes you want to lie on the couch. It feels like you with apathy. Even more intensely than that, it makes your palm sweat of causes nausea. It makes you hot and your teeth start to grind. It feels bad because the definition and the meaning you’re looking for don’t align.
Moving to Meaning
What does a word with meaning look like?
Meaning feels. It gives you butterflies or makes you feel powerful. It straightens your back and gives you poise. You feel as if you are floating. You feel the awakening and awe-inspiring kind of risk. These are words you want to build on, because they provide a foundation with so much energy.
Meaning is decisive. When something is meaningful, it gives you purpose and choices clear. Using the right words for you to ask a question allows the right action to feel good. Some actions or people fit the meaning and many others don’t. The yes and no is clear. There is certainty because the meaning is intense and visual and powerful — rather than vague and abstract. Even though the meaning may be hard to describe in words, you feel confident and powerful in your decisions.
Definitions are about words. Meaning has more than that. Meaning includes words, images, sounds, smells, and energy — meaning gives you clarity to take action.
Coaching Application & Case Studies
As a coach, what do we want to notice? What do we want to do?
- Find a situation in which definitions are being used with powerful listening.
- Notice it and have the client name it with a powerful question.
- Give them an opportunity to reclaim the definition, or use a new word.
- Coach and create action based on that new word — create action.
Here are three examples:
Sarah feels that she needs to be more responsible with her money. Every time she utters the word responsible, her shoulders tense. It gives her the impression that she can’t possibly have fun in with life, spending her money, if she is responsible. The coach notices this and we choose a new word: focused. She is focused with her money. This has energy and intention. It is about being effective rather than just efficient. It is about being creative in how she works with money and budgets. She feels free to explore and to enjoy her situation when she is focused.
Avery is disciplined about her work. For her whole life, she has been busy with a number of projects and incredibly productive. She schedules her time in 15 minutes and usually does very well. But, when she is interrupted she feels down because she has lost that discipline. It feels like a burden and a easy thing to break. The coach notices this and we choose a new word: committed. Committed is a word Avery likes because it is about passion and long-term plans. It is about running a marathon rather than sprints. It shows that her heart is in it, and not just her hands. Committed is not easily broken by interruptions, but is instead flexible and sees news ways to integrate others.
For Eve, taking care of herself by giving herself more time, space, or a day off is selfish. This means that she should feel guilty for that extra time, that is is wrong for doing what feels right. Where does this definition of selfish come from? Probably from all of the times we’ve used it in anger to another person. The coach notices this and we decide to redefine selfish as good — selfish is conscientiousness about self-care, because when I am not taken care of, I am in no place to share myself with others. Being selfish allows me to be my best self. With this new definition, Eve can take care of herself with love and not guilt.
Techniques for Creating Action
First, notice where a definition is being used with powerful listening. Return to what a definition looks like and notice those symptoms.
Bring it up and have the client notice it as well.
“I’m hearing the word _______ come up over and over, followed by a sigh. What is that?”
“I notice that when you say ________, the energy in your voice drops.”
“What does ________ mean to you? How do you feel about that meaning?”
Give them the opportunity to pick a new word or redefine the current one.
“Let’s scratch the word ________. What’s a word you’d like to use in relationship to (the current topic?”
“What would do YOU mean when you say _________? Let’s own that meaning.”
“We’ve found that _________ drains and burdens you. What’s a word that energised you?”
Then, keep using the new word and noticing the transition from the old word to the new word. Use that as the basis for their next actions.
“What does it look like to (current topic) with _________?”
“What does __________ look like?”
Aligning Coach and Client
This is a powerful tool for when the coach and client beyond misaligned as well. Sometimes, the coach or the client will use a word to communicate to each other that the other may interpret with some unique or negative connotations.
For example, a coach may ask a client to “consider the consequences” or “be mindful” in the coaching space — words that are intended to be neutral but interpreted a negative way. The coach should remind the client each session that if a question leads them elsewhere or doesn’t sit right, to speak up, so that together they can create the most fitting and flowing relationship. When the meanings are realigned, the coach and client will have learned much more about themselves and their triggers.
- What’s a word that you’ve been using for too long without questions? Whether it’s about something you should do, or a crutch you’ve been relying on to explain your word, shine a light on it.
- What are words that energise you? What makes you feel intensely when you say it?
- What’s word that drains you? When do you feel dragged down or burdened by something you’ve said?
- What word do people use often but you find disagreeable? What about it doesn’t sit right?
- What’s a word that you find has a powerful meaning?
- Think about a client. Is there are definition and meaning pair in their life that isn’t aligning? What would you like to ask them about it?