As a guy who writes a lot I’m probably stating the obvious, but I love words. I guard the sanctity of words such that when someone uses a “word” that doesn’t exist I might call them on it. Something like “irregardless” or “priorize”. Seriously how do we do this to the language? Words are meant to express ideas in a certain way, and when they become misshapen like these examples our attention can be drawn away from the intended meaning towards the defect hanging in the air in front of us.
One safe way to manage this is to stick with short words. Four letter words are short. Mostly one syllable. One of my favorites is …
It’s a funny word that it’s hard to figure out where it came from. I’m sure I could research the etymology of it and come up with a really solid explanation of why it is apt, but I would rather go with the golfers’ explanation that all the other four letter words were taken.
So perhaps we should get serious about even shorter words?
How about the words or and and?
Two letters …. O-R. But powerful!! By itself this little word implies choice! Would you like “this” or “that”? We can either do “this” or we can do “that”. It can be a word that helps us build a list of options, following each new idea with the query “or?” I like the concept of choice. The trick about choice is to make sure we are conscious that we are making one.
An example from the work world might be someone making a phone call home at the end of the day to their spouse saying “Sorry but I won’t be home for dinner. I have to work”. Our little friend or didn’t show up in that sentence. It may have been involved in the thought process, but it is also possible that the thought “Wow I have a lot of work to do. Should I stay here and do it or should I go home?” never came up.
By saying “I have to” I am trying to deny responsibility. But I am still choosing to work. There may be consequences to not working, but I’m choosing nonetheless. By bringing our little friend or into the process, we make this a conscious choice. I am aware of the consequences, and as a result I choose what is best in the circumstances.
So let’s talk about or‘s three letter companion … A-N-D. Now this word has some magic in it! How would life be if we substituted and for or in our examples above. How would you respond differently to the questions: “Would you like “this” and “that”? We can do “this” and then we can do “that”. What happens when we use “and?” after each entry on the list building exercise?
I’ll answer that … it changes from a list of options (choose one) to a list of possibilities (choose them all!!!!). Shifting from options to possibilities is such a gift … now we aren’t limited by probability or fear of failure. We’re looking at just how much/how many things we can accomplish.
There is one other aspect of this that I find particularly interesting from a leadership perspective. It applies in the way we have (or choose not to have) important conversations. We find ourselves making a choice between kindness or candor. Honesty or respectfulness. Safety or results. “How can I possibly choose between telling the truth or keeping a friend?” What a powerful transformation to say “I want to choose complete honesty and complete respectfulness!” and then set out and do it!
If we set out to handle all important conversations with an and philosophy we will show the type of leadership that inspires others. If we understand the skills required to have these conversations fully enough, we can also coach our team members in how to raise their level of interactions as well.
Back to our example where someone is choosing between staying at work or going home to spend time with their family. While consciously choosing is a much better alternative than feeling forced, how does our perspective change if we ask ourselves “how can I do this work and spend time with my family?” What are the possibilities? Can you see how many solutions might be there with this simple reframing? As leaders do we help our team do this?
Let’s go discuss this on the golf course!