The words and phrases we say everyday make a huge impact on how people respond to our leadership. Great leadership hinges on how we communicate day in and day out. Our words come with power, enough power that words can shape our culture, motivate or demotivate our people, and determine our long-term success as an organization.
As leaders, it’s important to identify what we say and what we can say better to help us lead better. Here are three adjustments in how I talk that I’ve learned over time. Try them out and see how they can help you lead better.
“Will you help…” instead of “I need you to…”
It may just be my personality type but one of the quickest ways to shut me down as a leader is to demand that I do something for you. Most people operate better when you enlist them to help you accomplish something rather than try to force them to accomplish something. One builds ownership, the other builds resentment.
Instead of saying, “I need this report done by the end of the day”, try saying, “Will you help me get this report done by the end of today?” It will soften the request in a way that is palatable to your team.
“I feel” instead of “you did/didn’t”
Making accusations instead of communicating feelings is detrimental to conflict resolution, as many great leaders (and seasoned spouses) have come to understand. Using the words “You did…” or “You didn’t…” can foster defensiveness and resentment, because the word “you” has an accusatory connotation to it.
Communicating through feelings is a better way to resolve conflict. Instead of saying, “You could have done better on this report”, try saying, “I feel that we could have done a better job on this report”. The combination of “I feel” and “we” accomplishes the same results without leading to a defensive response from your team.
“We” instead of “they”
I’m convinced that one of the most divisive words in the English language is, “they”. You’ve probably heard it before. “I would have gotten it done, but they didn’t do their job.” “Yea, they really messed this up, didn’t they?” “They told me I had to do it so I just did it”
The word “they” allows us to avoid taking responsibility for issues as they arise. Use of the word makes room for division in the organization because the word “they” implies that the organization isn’t a united front, but different entities that work in the same space.
Erasing the word “they” and only using the word “we” forces us all to make sure that we take responsibility for the actions of the organization as a whole as opposed to spreading the organization out into silos. It sounds much better to say, “We made the decision to go with another vendor” as opposed to saying, “They made the decision to go with another vendor”.
Do this: take one week and swap out each of these words. I promise that it will make you a better leader.