One of our favourite supplier representatives resigned a couple of weeks ago. We love our rep and will be really sorry to see her go. She has been a great friend and advocate, and it is hard to imagine that the next person will be as engaged and as easy to work with. Her old company is headquartered in another part of the country. She is the only person who works for that company in our city. In her new job she is leaving our industry and joining forces with some friends in a new venture that is headquartered here.
What is really interesting about this story is that the impetus for her move came from a very innocent remark by a mutual friend and colleague.
That colleague doesn’t even remember what he said, but it set things in motion that resulted in the rep changing jobs. That remark was: “you do a great job, but at the end of day you do not have the authority to make a decision that affects the business”. It got her thinking, same job … no chance of promotion without leaving the city … no chance of new challenges … no real ties to people in the office to keep her there … no ability to make an impact on the overall business.
My point is that it is amazing to me how impactful we can be to others without even knowing it. It is astonishing that even what we think of as a casual remark or throwaway statement can change someone’s life this significantly.
How many times does this happen in a day, a week, a lifetime? The fact is we don’t know and we won’t ever know, because most of them pass by without echoing back to us. This makes me think about how important it is for me to always be conscious of what I am saying, and perhaps more importantly the intention in my mind and heart when I am speaking them.
A well intended and well phrased remark can contribute greatly to someone moving
forward, just as happened with our rep.
A remark made with less than good intent can do damage to others.
A well intended but poorly phrased remark may be misinterpreted and cause concern or problems for others.
And finally, I also think it is possible that a well intended and well phrased remark could also trigger unintended unfavourable responses.
So every word counts … is that true for you? I think it is for me, but if so I probably don’t respect my words as much as I should. Here’s some things that come to mind for me:
- When I’m speaking, am I fully present for that conversation? Have I given thought to where my conversational partner is intellectually, mentally and emotionally.
- Am I speaking wholly from what is true for me, without allowing any fears or doubts to enter into my words or non-verbal communication?
- Do I know enough about both the subject and my conversational partner? Or is there so much unknown that even innocent words could land wrongly?
- Do I have something better in mind as I enter into the conversation? Am I looking for possible positive outcomes?
- As I speak, am I in tune with how the words are being received? And am I ready to adjust not only my delivery, but also my understanding, based on what I learn from my conversational partner?
As I think about these questions, the most important element for me is to be present in every interaction. WIth that, even misplaced words can be softened and adjusted to fit the evolving circumstance. I wonder for myself how different things might be if I did “show up” in every moment with this approach fully engaged.
I think teams expect this of their leader. Leaders, by definition, have an impact on their teams and thus their words carry greater weight than those of peers or casual acquaintances. In a work environment, leaders are seen to carry power over careers and so each word is often heard with heightened awareness. When I became a more senior leader, I began to understand that this awareness increases with your level of responsibility to a point where an executive’s whisper begins to sound like a shout to those listening.
So let’s set a lofty goal. Lofty goals aren’t met every minute of every day. Because they are lofty. It’s hard to live in rarefied air all the time. But let’s do it anyway. Let’s strive to speak every word from a place of compassion and understanding, and let’s also strive to see how our words are received, so that we can then seek to harmonize transmission and reception.
7 thoughts on “Every Word Counts!”
I love this post Ian! Words are powerful. I remember thinking the first time I read the phrase ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ how strange it sounded to me. I have come to realize that words do hold the power to make or break. I appreciate how you talk about leaders in this post. Many leaders do not realize that just by the virtue of their title, their whispers become shouts in the ears of their employees or followers. What a huge responsibility that is – one that needs to be taken seriously. All the more reason to be aware of how words are received and impact people and situations.
It is so true Diana. How we use our words is important, and even more so as a leader. The hardest part for me is that no matter how well thought out, how we’ll intended our thoughts and how in control we are with our expression, we are not at all in control of how they are received. Watching for non-verbal signs, checking in, asking about alignment all are valuable tools to make sure what we meant is what was received.
I’m really glad I read this post this morning. It has set the tone for the whole day.
Thanks for the comment Cranston. I would be interested to hear what the day brings you!
The day started and ended in gratitude. Very productive. I was able to encourage my staff, take some big steps toward my goals and be at peace mentally. Thanks
Yes, be mindful of your words but some of us appreciate a bit of candor with our leaders. It is our responsibility to parse that information and make it our own; Not blindly follow.
Freely formed thoughts and unfiltered conversation can lead to new ideas and collaboration (and new jobs!)
Thanks for your feedback on this post. I really love to get different perspectives on topics, and I do agree that open and direct communication fosters collaboration and creativity. At the same time, I think it important to understand the environment into which we are communicating and how our thoughts might be interpreted.