Berger Leadership Blog

Categories: Leadership

Your words matter, so stop doing these 3 things

Dan BergerIt's easy to underestimate the power of communication. It isn't something we're aware of at all times – from our body language to our tone to our word choice, communication is almost a reflex. We hear something and we respond without much thought.

For leaders and organizations, communication is a critical component of your success. It should be done thoughtfully and intentionally: It's how you build trust, excitement, support, and engagement.

Leadership guru Laurie Cure reminds us that the communication process is an important one. Comprised of five steps – source, encoding, channel, decoding, and receiver – any oversights or missteps during the process can derail your efforts. To help leaders communicate as effectively as possible, Cure advises leaders to avoid these three things:

  1. Using certain words: Communication is more than words; your word choice can elicit certain responses. Cure flags these three words to be cautious using, because while they're extremely common, they can carry a lot of unseen baggage:
    1. Why: We ask "why?" when we want to understand and get clarity. That's not a bad thing. But what follows your "why"? Depending on your tone, body language, and accompanying question, it can seem as if you're questioning their judgement. People often feel defensive or like they need to justify themselves if your intention isn't clear.
    2. Just: This is a diminishing word. We use it a lot to try to soften our direct ask: "I just wanted to check in see what the status is on…" but it can also diminish a person's worth or the value of what they're working on. No one is "just" one thing, and Cure warns of it "making others feel insignificant."
    3. But: This conjunction is used to connect two contrasting clauses. So, when you use "but" after giving someone praise, the listener immediately prepares for criticism. When we use "but" after making an apology, it sounds like we're making excuses. Be aware of how you use "but."
  2. Using idioms: Idioms are common phrases but do not translate literally. If you work in an industry that spans different countries – or even states – something that's common to you might not be common to the listener. Depending on the idiom, it can be offensive or insulting. Be aware of your audience and how it could be interpreted in today's world.
  3. Using absolutes: Absolutes are used to make our statements seem more powerful. Even if you mean it as a compliment – like, "This is our best data analyst" – it can unintentionally alienate and hurt others' feelings. Using absolutes in the workplace restricts our ability to form our own opinions and can also stifle innovation if used in the context of how things are done.

What you say, how you say it, and how it's received by listeners matters. Be intentional with your reactions and word choice and always listen and take cues from your listener to better inform your communication style.

Follow me on Twitter (@BDanBerger)

About the Author

B. Dan Berger, President and CEO, NAFCU

Dan BergerB. Dan Berger first joined NAFCU in 2006 and helped turn the association into the premiere advocate for the credit union industry.

Read full bio