Language study: to vs with
“I want to talk to you.”
Few words inspire such dread as these. Childhood memories of scoldings rise like blisters. These words are the opening act to every breakup argument, a sweat-soaked overture to an amorous ending, and the denouement to a heart-breaking dream.
These words mean, “You’re in trouble now.”
And we brace for a fight when confronted with these words. We become defensive, and that’s a natural response to this kind of stimuli. And while I could write an entire article on the nuances of our responses to stress, that’s not what I want to do today. Today, I’m going to show you how changing one word makes a world of difference.
“I want to talk with you.”
Do you see the difference there? Do you feel it? By changing one word, we change it from a directed statement into a cooperative one. It’s not longer accusatory, but an invitation to dialog. It lets the recipient know that their opinion is not only welcome, but wanted.
So why do I care, and why am I bothering you with my thoughts on this topic?
As a poet, writer, and storyteller, I make language a subject of much study. I muse on the meaning of words and phrases. I love puns, and delight in finding new ways to express a greater depth of meaning while using only a smattering of words. And sometimes I take the lessons I learn for my writing and apply them to the rest of my life.
I’ve had plenty of times in my life when I’ve been told, “I want to talk to you.” I’ve had plenty of times I’ve said that to someone, and seen how they react. But when I think of how those words have made me feel, and how I’ve seen them make others feel, it makes me want to be a better person.
I don’t want to be a “to” person. I don’t want to lecture or badger someone. I want to talk with them – I want to express my opinions and feelings and get feedback. I want to be a “with” person.
I want to be open and inviting. I want to inspire people – not terrorize them. So these days I make an effort to use “with” over “to”. Because living well, and making the world a better place, takes effort. And sometimes all it takes to make a difference in someone’s day is the choice of a single word.