Message from Julie: The Power of Words

message from julie: the power of words

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” You may have heard this as a child, I know I did. And while those who told us this were well meaning they were also wrong. As my Yoga teacher said during a recent class, words have the power to heal or hurt.

It reminded me that as leaders – and human beings for that matter – words are one of the most powerful tools we have. We can use them to connect, motivate, influence, and teach. Or we can use them to teardown, berate, humiliate, and create distance. If we want to have a positive impact on those we wish to lead, we need to pay attention to the words we use.

The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” She was reminding us that how we deliver our message matters, and our delivery can either attract people to our cause or drive them away. Words can build bridges or create chasms.

Here are three ways to increase effectiveness as a leader by choosing how we deliver our message:

1.Consider both intent and impact. Before you deliver a message, especially one that may include critical feedback, honestly look at whether your intent is positive. If the answer is yes and you can clearly identify that positive intent, the next step is to consider the likely impact the message will have on the person with whom you are communicating. This requires you to step out of your own shoes and into the shoes of the other person so you can consider the situation from their perspective.

2. Avoid words that will put the listener on the defensive. Starting a sentence with “why” leads listeners to believe they are being judged. Try “Help me understand…” instead. “You” can come across as accusatory, especially if it is followed by words like “always”, “never”, or “wrong”. Instead of, “You are wrong.” try “I am not sure that is accurate.”

3. Ask more questions. Asking questions can be especially helpful when you want to persuade. As Trey Gowdy points out in his book, Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and Persuade, “The best way to persuade anyone about pretty much anything is to ask questions. What works in a court room is precisely what works best in real life, and in business as well. Don’t state facts — ask questions that help people figure things out for themselves.”

As leaders, let’s strive to use our words to build bridges rather than create chasms.

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