What is the power of words? How important are they to how we are perceived? It starts with the words we use – both in writing, in public and most importantly, when we think no one is listening.
“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ― John Wooden
It is the height of political season and candidates at all levels of political leadership are trying to appeal to women of all ages, races and political leaning. The speeches are crafted to be inclusive and encouraging. Wordsmiths spend hours finding the right voice for their candidate and use language that will inspire voters, men and women, to chose their candidate.
“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.” ― Jodi Picoult,
However, it is the words used when we aren’t thinking in advance, when we haven’t spent hours at the computer editing and rewriting, that are the most telling. How many of you have had a boss that, in a meeting, will talk about the importance of women in leadership, diversity in teams and the art of collaboration, but when deadlines loom and the pressure is on, sing a different tune.
I think we have all experienced that 180 degree shift in thinking and for women in leadership, the power of words we use are often scrutinized even more than our male counterparts.
We can encourage or demean those around us with the words that we speak. Maria Shriver offers beautiful advice to women about the power of words in her article Think Before You Speak. Each of her five tips are important, however for women leaders, this one might be the most important to remember:
SPEAK WITH THE END IN MIND
Similar to Steven Covey’s 2nd Habit, Begin With The End In Mind, it is essential to use words and create a conversation that will move towards your desired outcome. When you provide feedback or share your opinion, identify your desired outcome before entering the conversation. Do you want a behavior change? Then choose words that will inspire that result.
But what if you are the recipient of the harsh words? Do you have a boss that is critical and rarely compliments your work? Do you work on a team with someone who disagrees with everything you say? Do you have someone in your life who offers hard advice under the guise of being helpful but instead make you feel worse for the effort?
Scott Young put together a listing of eight things to do when someone give you harsh, and perhaps even unfair, criticism. These 8 tips are followed by 8 more ways you can ask for more! Hard to believe? Well, his belief is that, if you can take the emotion out of the equation, you might find some value in the words being offered. Here are three tips that you might find helpful:
It’s Opinion, Not Fact – The only benefit of feedback is if it illuminates weaknesses or strengths you suspected but hadn’t realized. You always have the option to disagree with criticism.
Don’t Argue – I once saw on a famous speaker’s blog comments a verbal insult from someone. The speaker responded by continuing the attack and redirecting it at his assailant. I felt this showed a lack of maturity by bringing himself down to the level of the man who insulted him. You’ll look more secure and confident if you can redirect and brush aside criticism than if you engage in an argument.
Get Them to Focus on Behavior – If you are in the middle of an evaluation, try directing the person onto your specific behaviors, not you. Tell them you are interested in hearing their suggestions and ask for positive ideas for improving your methods.
Remember this. There will be people who show a different face to the public than they do the you individually. You can’t control their words or even hope to change their approach to you. All you can do is control how you react. Remember that you are strong. You are capable. You are of value.
The power of words is immeasurable. If you find that you have said something that has hurt or undermined another person – own it. Apologize. Recognize the hurt you have caused. Make amends and then move on. We all make mistakes. We all have said or done something we regret but that doesn’t have to define us.
Stop – take a breath – think before you speak – think before you react.
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” ~Yehuda Berg
Check out JJ’s new book Accelerate Your Impact by downloading three free chapters.