What’s Wrong with “What’s Wrong?”

“Hi Mike.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Just saying hi.”

“Ah, okay.”

***

“Hey Suzie. How are you?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. How’s life?”

“Everything’s great. You?”

***

“Hi!”

“What’s wrong?”

***

Of course, something can be wrong one day. If someone calls you in the middle of the night screaming on the phone, “Help!” you definitely wouldn’t be overreacting by asking, “What’s wrong?” But when used in everyday conversations, as a commonplace, “What’s wrong?” can change the tone of a conversation from negative to positive. If our intent is to be negative, then this should be fine. However, there usually isn’t anything wrong and the person asking that question probably uses the phrase as habitually as someone would say, “Yes?” or “I’m well, how are you?”

To illustrate this, instead of saying, “What’s wrong?” try saying, “Is everything alright?” The latter is effectively the same question, only rather than predicting bad things it evokes care and empathy. In other words, I care and want that everything is alright, therefore I’m asking. If we keep asking what’s wrong, perhaps it won’t strike us as strange when people respond by focusing on something that’s not so good and share it with us. We may then say, “I knew there was something wrong!” No matter how much I get used to people saying, “What’s wrong?” it can never go unnoticed as being out of place when I hear it. When someone says that to me, I feel like I’ve been taken out of context or accused of something. It changes my attention to seeking problems, even if it is just a phrase without meaning.

Regardless of whether we believe in what we say and pay attention to our language, words have power to shape our perception of the world that we’re living in. We don’t have to be a leader commanding the masses or a CEO directing a company to experience the immense effect our choice of words can have on how we interact with one another. In relationships at home, at work or in everyday life, we can count too many examples when we were misunderstood by saying something we didn’t even know would cause the other person to think of us in a certain way.

Not only do words we use communicate what we think and how we think, the way other people respond to us can make us feel good or bad about them. Unless preparing a presentation or giving a speech not many of us would spare much thought to carefullyy think about which turns of phrase to use and how to structure what we’re trying to say. We just communicate. But next time you hear, “What’s wrong?” either spoken to you or spoken by you, try to become aware of it. Think of it as an exercise in taking control of your language and, in turn, of how you may see others and how they see you.

Is that alright?

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