Are You (Accidentally) Using Words That Are Triggering People to STOP LISTENING?

IN: Writing


“Someday, I’m going to drop dead, and you’re not going to know how to cook squat.”


She said it at least once a week. Maybe more.

I’d always snubbed my nose at the kitchen; at the trout heads and ground beef balls, the fresh-picked parsley and the pasta fazool.  She was always looking for opportunities to teach me how to cook so I didn’t “end up serving my future family that Spaghettio’s crap,” but I know now that what she was really looking for was me.


To be her daughter. To be her Bette Midler in Beaches. To let her be my hero. To let her share the only remaining part of her that still felt like her. The capable, proud Italian part the Paxil and the Klonopin hadn’t strong-armed away from her. The part that would never overcook the meat.


And anytime I’d run by the kitchen on my way to a volleyball match, or to my shift at the ice cream stand, she’d often just sigh and mumble, “someday…” to herself, letting her words trail off.

To this day, nearly a decade after someday came, when the blood clot T-boned her lung as she was making her morning coffee, any time anyone starts a sentence with “someday,” I finish the rest of it for them in my mind.


“Someday, I’m going to drop dead, and you’re not going to know how to cook squat.”


The word “someday” is a trigger.

And if you’ve ever had a mother—or better yet, if you’ve ever been a human, you’ve probably got a few of your own. Your own trigger words that automatically fill in the blanks—or tell your brain to tune out.

And those are the most deadly. Did you know there are certain trigger words that actually signal us to stop listening because the brain thinks it already knows what’s going to be said?

Those triggers are useful when, well, you’re seventeen and you’d rather go flirt with the boys than learn how to cook, but not so much when you’re a business, because those same words are the ones that will put you out of business.


Because if you’re accidentally using language that triggers people to stop listening to you, they will.


The brain likes to be as efficient as it can, and if your brain thinks it can fill in the blanks, it will. It loves jumping to conclusions. It’s a conclusion whore.

You’ve probably seen those brain teasers that demonstrate how you can still read words that are completely jumbled as long as the first and the last letters are in tact, right?

That’s the same idea. Your brain uses context to help it perceive. So if you’re a life coach, or a business coach, or a photographer, or a designer, for example, and you use the same old words that customers are expecting you to use?

They’ll automatically assume you’re the same old.

It’s why draping your sales offers, your products, your service descriptions or your entire website with cliché, overused language is the equivalent of draping them—and your business—with a noose.

Because overused words have lost all their power.

The brain will skip right over ’em.

And customers?

Will skip right over you.


What are some other ways we could have said, “when the blood clot T-boned her lung,” to describe a pulmonary embolism?


Hint: There are two questions you always want to ask yourself when you’re trying to come up with a more interesting sentence:

1. What are the characteristics of the THING I’m trying to describe?
In this case, one characteristic of a pulmonary embolism is a collision. But naturally, you don’t want to say “collision” because that’s the most expected way. “…when the blood clot collided with her lung.”

2. What else embodies those same characteristics?
In this case, I had brainstormed a variety of other scenarios that brought to mind a collision:

“when the blood clot bumped into her lung” <—Not dramatic enough
“when the blood clot crashed into her lung” <—Not serious enough for the subject matter
“when the blood clot cymbaled into her lung” <—Nobody will have a fucking clue what that means
“when the blood clot stubbed its toe on her lung” <—More in line with the humorous side of our brand, but not impactful enough. A stubbed toe hurts, but it doesn’t result in death.
“when the blood clot T-boned her lung” <—Now we’re talking. A T-bone evokes an instant image of a fatal car crash that you could have never saw coming. Precisely what a pulmonary embolism is.


Brainstorm with us in the comments!