Words Matter. It Is Not What But How We Say It.

Choosing words wisely increases our chances to get heard and foster an environment in which our colleagues will feel safe to speak their mind – bring new ideas and suggestions etc. We will get their attention!

It’s been a while but today I am gladly resuming my publications. Today I will share something about feedback and how the selection of our words is important.

I once read somewhere that around 250k people die in the US every year as result of medical mistakes. Investigations found that more than a third of these fatalities could have been avoided if doctor’s assistants had spoken when noticing that something in the procedure was incorrect. The fact, apparently, was that most of these assistants don’t speak because of the negative reaction (even aggressive) from doctors.

Have you ever experience a situation in which you were in doubt whether you should speak or remain quiet afraid of being shut by someone who believe to ‘know-it-better’?

Last night I went to a friend’s gathering and at some point we got to speak about cultural differences – mostly on nationalities and discussed hierarchical vs egalitarian approach. Our common experience was that on hierarchical or top-down cultures people are ‘usually’ not allowed to freely express opinion or give recommendations. ‘This kind of culture can be perceived as ruthless and make people feel unappreciated’ – one said. Another complemented ‘I heard a manager stating

_I don’t care about what you think. Do what I am telling you and that’s it!

Well, we all agreed that there are many ways to say the same thing. If we don’t choose the right words or come across rude or callous, the probability of others listening to our ideas is fairly low or void. And it can be even worse, this may also prevent our people from bringing perspectives or giving innovative ideas not previously conceived – something that may set a company ahead of its competitors.

The way we communicate is deeply rooted in our culture’s philosophical, religious, educational assumptions etc. I will not get into the merit of application vs principle first but allude to the fact that as leaders, especially when working with multicultural teams, we have to develop contextual intelligence – the ability to adapt to new the environment / situation we are in.

There is not a one fits it all approach. We need to adapt. (period)

Back to the chats last night, another colleague also shared a bad experience lived on a poor feedback received – not only the content but how it was conveyed / worded. Offensive wording was used – which I will not mention here. I imagined myself in this person’s shoes and how she got home that day.

As leaders, we need to gain perspective of our people beyond job. We need to get full context of their lives. What drive, motivate and take them out of the bed every day. Also remember that they are not just a manager or coordinator etc. They are wives, mother, daughter etc. Our words and feedback may have huge impact on their sense of worth, family and personal life.  And we want to ALWAYS impact positively on that.

As leaders, we play a significant role in helping people understand why their jobs matter, but it’s not just about connecting their work to a larger purpose. A well prepared feedback – outlining strengths and room for improvement with wise selection of words is key.

In the end, what we want as leader is that our people feel a sense of progress, reinvention, and growth, which results in a more meaningful and positive work experience.

How do we make that happen?

That can be achieved through Persuasive Leadership – something I have mentioned on previous posts and something I learned from great mentors I have –  this is to me one of the most crucial business skills. By keeping a persuasive approach in mind in every single interaction we have (e.g. asking ourselves questions like ‘how do I want this person to feel after interacting with me– one will seldom fail and misuse the words) can bring about positive impact on peoples life, performance and job fulfillment as a whole.

Choosing words wisely increases our chances to get heard and foster an environment in which our colleagues will feel safe to speak their mind – bring new ideas and suggestions etc. We will get their attention!

Without the ability to get the attention and support of others to our ideas, we will seldom be able to turn such ideas or actions into reality. Also, without the ability to get strong collective ideas, no team can succeed.

To conclude and something to be born in mind as leaders. Our actions and words have to inspire our people. If we don’t inspire and motivate then we will not be successful. People need to get out of bed looking forward to coming to the office and work with us. They need to see us as an inspiration – always wanting to engage with us. We need to ensure we create as many ‘followers’ as possible and for that to happen, we must select our words wisely when communicating with our people.

That’s something I learned and my personal opinion!


Author: Domingos Silva Junior

Domingos Silva Jnr is Brazilian by birth and a shipping industry specialist with over 21 years of experience of international container shipping operations leading multicultural teams globally. Domingos encourages his teams for continuous improvement, teamwork and the ability to transform challenges into opportunities. His motto “If a problem is said to be difficult, my team would need a few hours. And if said to be impossible, three days would be sufficient to find a solution.” LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/domingos-dos-reis-silva-junior-4b05a1b

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