Oswald Letter

The Power of Words

Most people would agree that strong communication skills — written or verbal — are an asset for any manager. The ability to communicate effectively can be a profound advantage in business.

Words can be used to motivate, negotiate, intimidate, and validate. Words are powerful weapons and, when wielded by someone who is adept in their use, they can move mountains or crush the human spirit.

Some of our most beloved presidents have been great orators. Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech in Gettysburg, just 270 words long, that changed the face of our country. Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the lines, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and, “. . . a date which will live in infamy.” John F. Kennedy gave us, “Ask not what your country can do for you . . .”  And Ronald Reagan was known as “The Great Communicator” for his plain-spoken, folksy approach that people identified with so well.

And consider what Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. were able to achieve with their words.

You see, words are important. Words make a difference in our world. Choosing your words correctly and carefully is critical if you want to be successful. Consider this video that was shared with me the other day.

That video clip is designed to illustrate the power that the right words can have.  There were only nine words on the blind man’s revised sign, yet they made a significant difference in the actions of those who read them. Words can be that powerful.

So as a manager, how effective are you in using words? Think about the emails and memos you write or the words you speak at work. How thoughtful are you being about what you write and say? How intentional are you being with your communication?

Here are a few things to consider before you communicate:

Choose your words carefully. If words are as powerful as they say, and I believe they are, then you must be careful with their use. Like any weapon, they can be used for good or for harm. Make sure the words you choose deliver the message you intend, because it’s those unintended consequences that come back to haunt you.

Don’t ever forget that the delivery is only half the communication equation. You must consider the person(s) receiving the message. Every person has a different filter through which they interpret what is being conveyed. That filter is shaped by the person’s experiences with you and others. It’s essential that you consider your audience as you select the best words to accomplish your objective.

Always be in control of your emotions when you communicate. I won’t argue that you shouldn’t communicate in time of joy, fear, or anger — but I will say you must be in control of those emotions to ensure you’re communicating effectively. Anger is probably the one emotion that gets the best of us most often. It’s easy to use words that are damaging or a tone that is harmful when we communicate out of anger. Take a step back and consider the long-term effects of what you’re about to say. Once the words are out, they are impossible to take back. And their impact will be lasting.

The written word has a long life. What we write will stay around for a long time. You should consider that when you sit down to write a memo, an email, or text. It’s very easy for someone to hold on to that document and bring it back out when you least expect it. No, I’m not saying that you should never commit anything to writing, just that you should be aware that it will likely be around for a long time.

Assume your audience is larger than you expect. You must realize how easy it is in today’s world of electronic communication for people to forward a message (email, text, voice mail) to others. Your intended and expected audience may not be the only ones to read what you write or hear what you say. Assume that everything you say or write is going to have a broader audience than what you intend.

Last but not least, your words portray who you are. Choosing the right ones is very important, but so is how you use them. In our world of instant communication, it’s easy to fire off a quick email or text, but that doesn’t mean you should be less careful about the words and how you use them. For instance, an email response typed on your smart phone can easily be laced with typos. Is that appropriate for the audience? What message does it send? Could someone reading the message believe you either don’t care enough or aren’t able to write a coherent sentence? Do you care? Maybe you don’t, but don’t ever believe that people aren’t interpreting more than the words when they read or hear your words.

Your words are important. Your words can make a lasting impact on those around you. Your words can inspire, motivate and validate. Your words are powerful weapons that you must wield with caution. Choose your words carefully. Be intentional with the words you use and how you use them and they can be a tremendous asset to you. Use them wisely.