Nov 20, 2023 12 min read
Words have Power
The profound impact of words on individuals and organizations is undeniable. Effective communication in the workplace is pivotal, in shaping relationships, driving collaboration, and inspiring actions. Mark Pagel's TED talk underscores how language implants ideas and influences perception. Apt words have changed the course of history, exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. Mindful communication creates a healthy work culture, inspiring commitment, trust, and teamwork. Leadership relies on motivating language, while constructive feedback and conflict resolution depend on well-chosen words. Gratitude and recognition uplift, while harsh criticism, micromanagement, and apathy demotivate. In the digital age, spoken words remain a potent force, essential for fostering alignment with an organization's values and vision, from onboarding to retirement. The choice of words, as Robin Sharma aptly states, can either inspire or destroy, leaving us to ponder how we wield this powerful tool.
Words have Power!
While scrolling through a social media page recently, I came across a quote that not only halted the scrolling but also made me ponder. The quote by Bill Treasurer, the author of the international best-seller ‘Courage Goes To Work’ said, “Always remember that leadership is a privilege. When you're in a leadership role, your influence may affect the trajectories of people's entire careers (and, often, their lives!). When you do it right, you create a legacy of other leaders who can bring their goodness into the world.” The statement made me realise the sheer magnitude of the power of words on people.
Communication is the cornerstone of any successful workplace. It ensures that information flows seamlessly, fosters collaboration, aligns teams and ultimately drives the achievement of shared goals. The words we choose to communicate have immense power to shape relationships, inspire actions, and influence outcomes. “Words have power" underscores the importance of using words wisely within a professional setting.
In a 2013 TED talk, “Does Language Bring Us Together or Pull Us Apart?”, Dr. Mark Pagel explains that through language we are able to “implant our ideas” into another’s mind. Language provides the rails on which thoughts ride. The words we use — and how we use them — matter immensely because they shape the way we perceive the world and participate within it.
The world has witnessed how apt, passionate words, delivered at the right moment, sometimes change the course of history. The world still remembers the words from the speech of Martin Luther King Jr. — I Have A Dream, one of the most powerful speeches in human history.
Harnessing the power of words through mindful and positive communication can foster a harmonious and productive work environment:
Create a healthy work culture: Our workplace interactions play a pivotal role in shaping the quality of our relationships with colleagues and superiors. When we employ words thoughtfully and with respect, we forge trust and build rapport, thereby enriching collaboration and teamwork. Considerate language manifests empathy and regard, cultivating an environment in which individuals sense their worth and feel heard. Even the simplest gestures, such as expressing gratitude with a "thank you" or acknowledging achievements with a "great job" have the power to significantly elevate morale and foster camaraderie.
Choosing words that promote inclusivity, appreciation, empathy, and respect can build and sustain a positive work culture, leading to higher collaboration, productivity, employee loyalty, and wellness. When leaders recognise talent and appreciate and celebrate achievements through appropriate words, people believe that they matter and will be inspired to do more by moving from mere compliance to commitment.
Inspire and motivate: Leadership is not merely about authority and guidance; it is the art of influencing, inspiring, and motivating individuals toward shared objectives. A leader’s choice of words can either elevate teams to greatness or steer them toward demotivation. Effective leadership hinges on clear, positive communication, fostering innovation, dedication, and trust. The most effective leaders are those who consider how to inspire their team. Thoughtless language impedes progress, whereas mindful words inspire success.
Constructive feedback: "You're doing it wrong" is not constructive feedback. It is far more effective to focus on improvement and collaboration rather than criticism by saying something like, "I believe there's room for improvement, and here's how we can work on it together." We all know that constructive feedback addresses specific issues with the aim of fostering improvement and open dialogue, while negative feedback tends to criticize without offering solutions.
Conflict resolution & persuasion: Well-chosen words can effectively manage and resolve workplace conflicts. Words like “I understand your feelings”, and “Let us find a solution together” can douse conflicting views and make people consider a more collaborative means to work together. In the same way, the choice of words can make a substantial difference in how receptive people will be to your ideas. Using words that reflect the organisational values and collaborative approach can help win support and inspire action.
Gratitude Etiquette: Making a habit of generously and genuinely using ‘thank you’, ‘please’, ‘you are welcome’, ‘take care’, etc. at the workplace will keep the workplace environment brimming with good vibes, gratitude, and positivity.
On the other end of the spectrum are harsh and insensitive words that can demotivate people leading to employee disengagement and organisational slump in the long run:
Lack of Recognition: Employees can become demotivated when their efforts and achievements go unnoticed or unappreciated, making them feel undervalued. Avoid saying “You are just doing your work” or “Anyone can do what you have done”. It must always be kept in mind that people thrive in an environment where they are acknowledged and encouraged to do their best.
Unconstructive Criticism: Negative feedback without offering specific suggestions, such as saying, “I don’t see any productive work from you” or “You have very poor management skills”, can demotivate employees. They would feel unappreciated, lost, and unsupported in their work. It is important to use words that offer clear and constructive feedback for higher employee engagement and productivity. Feedback should have direction or guidance, like saying, “I noticed errors in the report. Please review thoroughly. Your attention to detail will greatly enhance the overall quality of the report”.
Micromanagement Language: Most often people need guidance and trust from their superiors. Instead managers, many a time, without realising, constantly monitor and instruct every detail through words that can convey a lack of trust in the person’s abilities. Words like "I need you to send me a status update every hour on this project. I want to know exactly what you're doing” stifles creativity and autonomy, leading to feelings of disempowerment and frustration.
Apathy: Words that reflect indifference or self-centeredness such as “That’s not my problem”, or I am too busy”, can lead to reduced morale and isolation of employees. It is important to take the time to listen actively, ask follow-up questions, and offer support when someone shares their problems or concerns with you. Doing so can lead to a cohesive, and supportive work environment.
Even as technology permeates all aspects of our lives, the spoken word still has the biggest stronghold on our emotions and actions. It’s the basic form of communication that will always be used, no matter where digitalisation or AI takes us. From onboarding to retirement and beyond, it is the spoken words that elevate, motivate, and inspire people to belong and align with the organisation’s values and vision.
As bestselling author and leadership expert Robin Sharma says about the power of words, “Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well”. The question to ponder is: How are we making use of this power?
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