Three Key Words To Eliminate To Save Your Relationships!

Family!  Happy Family!

The holidays are upon us and for some these are times of great cheer.  For others, the holidays represent a time of dread and obligation, about six weeks to just get through before getting back to “normal.”  What makes them so difficult?  

In a word: family.  

What’s strange is that we grew up with these people.  We kind of liked these people.  We even profess to love these people.  So what’s up that we don’t want to spend time with them?  Well, the answer is two-fold.  First, we often feel as if we’re being crammed back into some mold of who we were back in our childhood.  Yet we’re not that same person.  We don’t want to be that person.  And in fact, we demand to be seen for who we are now.

And therein lies the rub. Other family members have a snapshot view of us while we have the rolling movie view of growth and development over time.

And you, yourself, might be guilty of this as well.  You expect the person who you saw last year or a few years back to be the same person that they were.  And they’re not.  And they’re resentful that you didn’t notice that.

What to do – 

First, acknowledge that the word Re-Lation-Ship is divided into three Latin roots meaning the state of coming together again.  A relationship isn’t static and people get into trouble when they want things to be the way they always have been.  If you look at yourself, you’ve grown and developed over the past 10 years, past five, two, and you’d even acknowledge that you’re different today from who you were just last week.  And yet, we humans like constancy so we don’t assume anyone else has grown even though we know we have.  And that spells trouble.

At your next family gathering, start with, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.  What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened for you recently?”  When you start there, you’re acknowledging the growth and change of the other person. You’re also setting the conversational tone to focus on excitement.  This, by the way, is different from saying, “So, tell me what’s new.”  You’re likely to get the “nothin’” answer, so focus on something that will give you more energy.

And then there are the watch-words.  Here, the top three watch-words, when eliminated from your vocabulary, will help you avoid conversational pitfalls.  Yes, happier family gatherings are rooted in stronger, more supportive communication.  Face it, the holidays can be downright stressful.  Everyone has his or her own wants and needs and way of communicating. You can’t please them all and it’s simply annoying and exhausting to try.

The words to eliminate:

  1. Why– this is a word of blame and shame.  “Why did you bring potato salad?”  Or “Why is the cap off the toothpaste?” Or “Why are you late?”    The only possible response is one that starts with “because.”  And now the responder is feeling like they’ve just been parented.  The response could come in a way that sounds like appeasement or it could come in a way that is reminiscent of an outraged adolescent.  

Either way, you’re not getting the response you really want.  Instead of asking a “Why” question, start with “What” or “How.”  

  • What happened that you brought potato salad?  I thought we had agreed on green beans.
  • Since we both use the toothpaste, what routine can we get that the cap will always be on it for the next person?
  • How are you? I was worried and wondered what happened since you’re almost an hour delayed.  
    • Or – How can you set your schedule to be prompt next time?
  • But– this word negates everything that comes before it.  “Oh, it’s so good to see you.  I really love your dress, but have you seen Jenny’s dress?”  

We also live in such a competitive world that conversation has become a sport. It’s almost as if we’re waiting for the other person to take a breath so we can jump in with our viewpoint. “Yeah, but…” is basically a put-down and a way of negating the other person’s point.  And, it’s likely that’s not what you meant to do at all.

Instead of making the other person wrong by your big “but,” use the word “and” instead.  

  • “I really love your dress and have you seen Jenny’s dress?”  Both can be envied with the use of “and.”  One isn’t better than the other.

Go inclusive instead of exclusive.  If you want to break into a conversation, don’t “yeah, but.”  Instead, practice “yes, and….”  You’ll get a lot further because you’re doing a “plus-one” to what has already been said.

  • Should– another blameful word, the founder of Gestalt Psychology used to say that there’s no reason to should all over yourself or anyone else.  “You should have brought green beans.”  “You should have called.”  

The thing is, you can’t “should have something” right now.

Instead, look to the future using words such as “could” or “can” or “would.”

  • “Oh, you brought potato salad.  Let’s see what we can do with this.”
  • “Yes, you’ve arrived a little late.  What do you think could happen for next time so that you’re here a little earlier?”

By eliminating these top three watch-words, you can start conversations that don’t add to an already stressful event.  Bring your own joy and treat every family member as if they’re the long-lost friend you haven’t seen in ten years.  Others will respond to you, so, as a good leader, you set the tone.  

Even when the conversation is already in play, you set the tone.  Focus on what is exciting in others’ lives.  Eliminate the blame and shame words from your vocabulary.  Engage with joy.  

These are people you love. Now, do your best to turn them back into people you actually like, too.  These are your holidays to enjoy.  Bring your best!


Dr Wayne Pernell is a relationship expert, a #1 International Best-Selling Author, Speaker, and High Performance Leadership Advisor.  His first book, Choosing Your Power, has a list of ten watch words.  Dr Pernell is offering a free Relationship Recharge primerfor our readers.  He can be contacted through his website at


  • Dr Wayne Pernell

    Breakthrough Success Coach, Speaker, #1 Best Selling Author

    DynamicLeader, Inc

    Dr Wayne Pernell Known as the Powerful Presence™ Mentor and “Outfluencer™,” Dr. Wayne Pernell is a highly sought speaker, Amazon #1 International Best-Selling Author, blogger, podcast host, and High-Performance Breakthrough Success Coach. While earning his doctorate in clinical psychology, Wayne began working with leaders and high-performers, and over the past 35 years, he has honed his craft of helping others break through to their next level of success. In addition to his PhD, he holds certifications in High-Performance Coaching and High-Performance Leadership.  Over his career, Dr. Pernell has held a variety of executive-level positions and he now brings his vast experience in lifting others to set new strategic targets and attain exceptional success and fulfillment both personally and professionally!  Dr Pernell is the president of DynamicLeader®, Inc. He founded the #StartsWithOne™ movement, he is a member of the Forbes Business Council, he is a TEDx Speaker, has been featured in the Amazon Prime Television series SpeakUp Season 2, and is regularly seen on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and The CW, as well as heard on radio and podcasts around the world. His work can also be found in Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Forbes, and the NY Times, and so many others.  “Dr P,” as his clients and friends call him, runs programs for individuals and organizations and is booking consultations when you’re ready to leave “stuck” behind and step into your next level of success.  ALL SOCIAL: