When if becomes when

Communication plays an important role in both our personal and professional lives. If you analyze our daily life, you will find us sending out messages. We all have our signature ways of communicating such as overly optimistic, neutral, unfocused and even apocalyptic. In recent times, I have been noticing the usage of if and when while communicating. It is interesting when you choose one instead of the other, the meaning of the sentence changes. Not only does the meaning of the sentence changes, but also there is a change in the tone of the message.

The first instance of change was to move towards optimism from pessimism, and it happened when a person corrected a colleague doing a presentation. The presenter was describing a new process which spans multiple business units. Since there are at inception stage, there were struggling with the corporate inflexibility and also self-doubt. Midway during the session, the presenter said, "If we reach this stage, then everybody will realize the benefits." The colleague quickly corrected, "When we reach that stage, everybody realizes the benefits". Consider both approaches. A simple change. But the message now was sounding more confident than the first take.

The second instance was to sound more apocalyptic than cautionary. Here the speaker was involved in an initiative that was going through trying times. So as the person-in-charge, he wanted all artifacts to be in place so that there is a proper audit trail of what transpired. To achieve this objective, he addressed to his team members. "I want it all in one place. When this explodes, I want everyone to know what happened here. Remember when it blows up and not if it blows up." He was sure the blow up was imminent.

If you analyze this further, the changes were small. But the underlying messages changed. A simple change from if to when can create a bigger effect in the minds of your audience. Always keep this in mind while you are composing the next message. Decide how you want to sound and choose your ifs and whens wisely.

Tags: Musings,Communication,If,When