It is way too easy for our message to be lost in the words we use to deliver it!
How often have you heard (and/or said) the following?
- I/we plan to…
- It will be really important if we…
- That’s not what I wanted to hear!
- This is a priority.
- That was a bad idea.
These words, and many more expressed in similar fashion, have the power to undermine your change. Word matter! Yet all to often, we “ready, fire, aim” when sending them into the world, and even when thinking them to ourselves.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these phrases. That’s not what is important; what is important is hearing the messages they convey, and learning how to avoid them. Let’s take a look.
I/we plan to… How committed do people generally get to a plan? How motivated are they to give it 110%, to put aside what they are now invested in doing in order to execute a plan? The plan may be necessary, but results are only achieved in the execution. Don’t talk about your plans. Talk about what you are–or will be–doing. Talk about what you aspire to achieve. As we’ve all heard before, Martin Luther King didn’t give an “I Have a Plan” speech. Martin Luther King had a dream. And he painted a vivid picture of life when his dream is fulfilled. What is your dream? What will life be like once it is achieved? That is the language you need. That is the language that others need.
It will be really important if we… There are a couple of stumbles embedded in this one. If “it will be really important if we…” then it is really important now. “If” makes it optional; optional things aren’t really important, so just forget them. Work with It is essential that we… or It is critical for us to… Move away from equivocation.
That’s not what I wanted to hear! If it’s not what you wanted to hear, then it is important that you hear it! if all you are being told is what you want to hear, then you are listening to the wrong people. You are not getting the insights and alerts that you need to stay on top of the risks that your change is facing. You are being lulled into a false sense of successful progress. Big changes face big risks and big challenges. It isn’t a question of whether or not things go wrong; it is a question of what will go wrong, and when. Unless you are saying, That’s not what I wanted to hear! That’s a problem. Thank you for your candor in telling me, you are setting yourself up for failure.
This is a priority. And? So are this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and that thing over there. Our professional lives are filled with priorities. Our personal lives are filled with priorities. And, as we all know, if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Limit your priorities to what you, and those supporting you in the change, can accomplish. Put the rest of it away for another time. Then you are left not with This is a priority but with This must get done. It is make-or-break.
That was a bad idea. If it was a bad idea, why did you try it? If it was a possible solution to a problem, or a reasoned next step based on what was known, then it may have been a mistake; it wasn’t a bad idea. When working on the electric lightbulb, Thomas Edison didn’t have bad ideas. I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. When was the last time any of us tried 10,000 ways (literally, or even figuratively) to do anything?
Given that words matter, how do you make sure you are using the correct ones?
- Give yourself time. Think it through. Write it down. Read it. Put it aside. Read it again. Read it aloud. Mark Twain wrote, I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one. Do everything you can to make it short, even if it can’t be made sweet.
- Make it clear to the stranger on the street. You may not actually ever communicate it to her…but it should be written so that she would understand if you did. Get rid of the jargon. Get rid of the “50 cent” words. There are times when–especially if you are working in an organization–you may need “special terms,” words that carry a specific meaning and facilitate communication. Limit the terms. Limit their usage. Wherever possible, give them context that allows them to be understood by outsiders as well.
- Make it clear to those who need to hear the message. Don’t “soft peddle” bad news, thinking “They’ll get the message.” Deliver the message, not some mushy, sugar-coated, “hint, hint” version of it.
- You’re not communicating with goldfish. According to some recent research, their nine second attention span is a second longer than ours. Don’t waste the first eight seconds of your message! communicate with your readers from the first word on the paper (or out of your mouth).
What do you do to ensure that your words matter in the way you want them to? Comment below.