Emily Dickinson said, “a word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day”. How true!
Last week a good friend, someone I admire and respect, sent me a note telling me that she was proud of me for a particular accomplishment. Her words came to life for me and transformed the rest of my day.
Leaders sometimes forget the power words have over individual and team performance. They forget that people remember what was said to them sometimes for weeks, months, and even years. Remembering words for that length of time is both an asset and a liability.
I’m constantly reminding leaders that not all words mean the same thing to all people. When they get frustrated because someone responds differently than they expected, the first response is typically “what’s wrong with them. That’s not what I meant”. The burden for understanding is placed squarely on the shoulders of the listener and indemnifies the speaker.
Speakers, by that I mean anyone communicating a message to another person, have a responsibility and opportunity to positively improve the efficacy of their communication. Here are three things I recommend in order to do so:
1. Start by remembering that the words you choose will take root in the listeners mind and reside there considerably longer than it takes for you to deliver them. So, choose your words wisely!
2. Get clear about what you want people think, feel, know, believe, or do, as well as what you think, feel, know, and believe regarding the situation. Find the linkages and gaps between the two perspectives and develop specific ways to bridge them. If you don’t think this through you’re not allowed to proceed to number three.
3. Once you know the answer to number two, choose positive / active words that directly link your intended message with your desired outcome. Speak both to thoughts as well as to feelings.
If you don’t follow these three steps, your words will likely be dead on arrival.