The Power of Value-laden Language

February 29, 2024 at 8:28 AM |
Posted by:
Debi Grebenik
Debi Grebenik

Do you want to know one of the best ways to effect change? How we use language is a small, challenging step that yields significant results. Really? That may seem a weird place for us to start. The role of value-laden language has a massive impact on how we are perceived and how we make others feel.

Value-laden means words are crafted by opinion. There may be better options. Our word choice reveals our biases and may be critical or judgmental. One of the words I became sensitive about is the word ‘trigger’. The word trigger is often associated with a gun or violence. Additionally, it intonates what you are doing to me rather than my looking at my reactions or responses. A better word choice for me is ‘activate’, because now I am taking responsibility for how I am responding.

Our words are important. They can heal or hurt. What legacy do you want to create with your words? When we shift our language, we change our mindsets — for example, referring to a client as trying to get their needs met instead of calling them manipulative. Struggling instead of defiant, and connection-seeking instead of attention-seeking are substitutions that shift how we view clients.

Another example is to use pain-based behaviors to describe behaviors that we may not understand, which keeps us from assigning intentionality to the behaviors, and we can then respond from a place of calm and grace. We can also center the person in our work. Instead of a case review, we conduct youth or family reviews. We don’t want to lose sight of the humans we are serving.

When we use different words, we create mindset shifts. Those mindset shifts translate into different behaviors that shape better outcomes.

The process seems simple, yet it is not easy. One project partner took this shift seriously and made conscious efforts to change their language. In the process, they challenged some of the sayings and phrases commonly used. They shifted from saying a youth was ‘running away’ to stating they were ‘eloping for connection’. Because of the shifts they made in their language, they began to look at meeting the needs of the children and families they work with. This shift yielded positive results — permanency increased, families felt seen and heard, and workers felt better about their work.

Start small. Consider your why and your values, and then seek to match your language to that. When we change our language, our mindsets shift, and our behaviors look different, leading us to our desired outcomes. What words or phrases would you like to adjust or adapt? Alia is available to help you replace mindsets with those that create trust and healing.

Won’t you join me in changing your language, redesigning your mindset, and creating new behaviors to get the outcomes you want?


“The words you speak become the house you live in.”