Proactive language, in contrast to reactive language, differs in terms of the locus of control experienced by the speaker. When someone has a sense of control over the situation, his speech generally reflects his control or acceptance of responsibility. The word selection and sentence patterns generally reveal insight into the way the speaker feels regarding the subject he is speaking about. Proactive language shows the speaker taking responsibility for a situation or experience, and seizing control as demonstrated by the use of active and decisive sentences.
Proactive language shows a clear acceptance of responsibility. People who use specific definitive statements are considered to be using proactive language while general, non-specific statements are considered more “reactive” than proactive. For example, someone who generalizes with statements like “I just can’t” or “There is nothing I can do” or “I don’t have time” is not taking responsibility for the situation. More appropriate, proactive statements would be “I will” or “I can.”
Reactive statements, such as “If only…” claims, appear to be more effective at displaying the speaker as a victim of other people or external events. Proactive language shows the speaker is in control. Rather than saying, “If only I had a better job …” or “If I had a better education …,” the proactive speaker says, “I don’t like this job, I’m looking for a new one” and “I’m returning to school,” then actually follows up the statements with actions to get a new job or return to school. The proactive speaker recognizes that life’s events are not up to chance; they can be controlled simply by stepping up and taking that control.
Proactive language uses active sentences rather than passive ones. Instead of statements using “I would …,” the proactive speakers says “I will …,”; instead of “We could …,” the proactive speaker uses “Let’s ….” The difference seems small to some, but chances are the reactive speakers are the ones who don’t see the big difference. Proactive language using active sentences expresses the speaker’s direct actions and definite intentions; passive sentences are more like possibilities or hypothetical claims.
Proactive Language as a Leadership Tool
Leaders in all groups use proactive language which sets them apart from the followers. Leaders effectively use active sentences as a means to inspire and encourage those they lead. Statements such as “We can do this!” and “Let’s look at it another way” can save a group from failure. Leaders who tend to use reactive language may find marked improvement in their group’s productivity if they begin switching to more active sentences and proactive language.