“There is a great power in words, if you don’t hitch too many of them together.” –Josh Billings
There is a transformative power in the language we use with our teams. If you don’t believe that words are important, why do news stories waft across our feeds about a group calling for the ban of a popular book? Why do companies now have “talent management” departments instead of human resources or personnel departments? It is because the way ideas are communicated carry weight. In our businesses, the power of words sets the standard in our team’s mental state. Consider a team member who comes to you with an idea you can’t quite wrap your head around. There is a huge difference between saying, “I don’t understand a word you’ve said; tell me again” and “I’m not clear on some points; let’s go over it one more time to make sure I understand.” The first response’s language might make your team member reluctant to come to you with ideas, whereas the second statement lets your team member know you’re invested in their opinion. Furthermore, the first statement implies a problem with the idea or the manner in which it was presented. The second statement suggests the problem is with understanding of the receiver (me).
The structure of our language to team members should always hold the connotations of encouragement and growth rather than criticism and dead ends. That is the difference between saying, “What if we…” versus “That’s not possible” when a clunker is thrown into the mix. The recipient is challenged when faced with a “what if ” and given permission to continue their line of thought. “That’s not possible” automatically tells the recipient their idea was not valid, and they will become guarded before speaking again.
If your language choices normally roll toward the dead-end spectrum, it’ll take some practice to change your habits in that regard. It’s been said that actions take 10,000 repetitions to form a habit (to become cataloged as “muscle memory”)—the same concept is true with language choices. Develop your own personalized set of encouragement-centric language and practice its usage. This may sound contrived, but as a leader, you literally set your team’s tone via your language.
Words Are Tools: Use the Right One for the Right Job: Accelerators
- Identify the common words you use when expressing disagreement with someone or when giving constructive feedback.
- Highlight the negative terms or phrases that seem to be habitual for you.
- Identify replacement words or alternatives to these overly negative terms or phrases that are much more positive, or at the least, neutral.
Dr. Jeff D. Standridge is the best-selling author of “The Innovator’s Field Guide” and “The Top Performer’s Field Guide.” He serves as Managing Director for the Conductor and Innovation Junkie, and teaches in the College of Business at the University of Central Arkansas. Jeff helps organizations and their leaders generate sustained results in the areas of innovation, strategy, profit growth, organizational effectiveness and leadership. Learn more at InnovationJunkie.com.