The words we use carry immense weight in our relationships —with others, with ourselves, and with the world.
We interpret our lives through a prism of language. To address life’s challenges effectively, we must understand them effectively. Understanding, in turn, is fundamentally a product of language. We don’t need a grad-school vocabulary; we simply need to realize that the words we use become our thoughts. Language is the only box out of which we can’t think.
The importance of language begins with the internal dialog — our conversations with ourselves.
If we use reasonable words, we become more reasonable. If we use angry words, we become angry. If we use cruel words, we become judgmental and closed to reconciliation. If we use words of inquiry or curiosity we become more focused and objective.
A person can either be a “pain in the ass” or “have a significant unmet need.” Another’s idea can be a “non-starter” or it can be “an interesting perspective.” A situation can be a “death march” or it can be a “significant challenge.”
I’m not suggesting we use words in a manipulative way, or to mislead. I’m also not suggesting that we abandon discrimination, insight, or discernment. What I am suggesting is that we at all times choose our words with the filter: “How helpful?”
The effectiveness of leaders tracks with the quality of the language they use. I’m not talking Public Relations stuff here, but rather how good leaders use language to ask appropriate questions, reframe difficult situations, motivate, create higher levels of reasoning — to put themselves and their organizations in the best possible position to move forward.
Your Path Forward: Take a week to assess the language you are using, both inside your head and with others. Ask several people to help you listen to yourself, and to challenge language that is unproductive, judgmental, or stifling. Try to find at least one situation each day where you can change the words you use and by so doing create a better leadership mindset and perhaps a better work environment.