Today I was sent a rather inspiring little video clip off Youtube. It lasts less than two minutes, but manages to pack a punch in that time. I won’t spoil it for you by revealing it’s conclusion, but suffice it to say that it reflects on the power of the words we use.
In my previous career as a communications professional, and today in much of my consultancy work, I am constantly reminded of the power of words. Companies spend a lot of time thinking about the words they use to describe themselves and what they do.
It’s fashionable to dismiss that as “spin”. But how many times have you been irritated by a badly worded letter from a company you are dealing with, or a carelessly phrased comment from someone on the phone? Words matter as they shape not just our practical experience of an organisation, but our emotional reaction to it and, I would argue, our loyalty towards it.
Words matter in our personal interactions too – the way we talk to other people shapes their experience of us and their reaction to us. A huge proportion of the personal leadership work which managers undertake in organisations focuses on helping them to understand their personal impact – that is, looking at what they do (and how they do it) and what they say (and how they say it), and the effects these things have on those they claim to lead.
In my early days as a board director, this was brought home to me in a profound and rather unsettling way. I’d casually mentioned in a meeting one day that it would be fascinating to see a particular set of data related to a project we were working on. I forget now what it was – it was a trivial comment, a throw-away remark which I did not expect to hear any more about, let alone to be acted upon.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when a week or two later a full report landed on my desk presenting an analysis of precisely the data I had mentioned. Someone had clearly spent many hours undertaking this analysis. They’d taken me at my word. I was a good deal more careful after that to be clear about what I wanted and expected.
Our word, then, is a powerful thing. It affects how people perceive us and respond to us. But what about the words we use to describe ourselves, to ourselves – perhaps words we whisper to ourselves when we are alone, or the words that run round our minds and we don’t dare utter out loud?
If we take the time to speak to others with care, integrity and clarity, then perhaps we should extend the same privilege to ourselves?