Can a simple change of words really changed the course of a relationship?
How can raising our awareness of our language individually and as a team really change the way we act? How can language influence our decisions and ultimately the results we create?
Last week I was working with a leadership team that I have spent many years coaching and supporting.
They are a truly high performing team – consistently delivering projects and outputs to a high standard.
We were discussing a challenge between this team and members of another team. One of the observations I made was the importance of language. As they discussed the issue they regularly referred to the other team and them and their own team as we. Their language was demonstrating vey clearly the divide that existed between the two teams.
Language is an external expression of our thoughts…
Our language is always an external expression of our internal thoughts. When we use decisive language like them and us, it clearly shows that in our minds we see a division between us and the other team.
Language is also a pre-cursor to action. We think, we express through language and we then take action. Therefore when we speak in a divisive way our actions are highly likely to also be divisive.
The importance here is that language can also be a massively impactful mechanism for change. When we modify our language, we can modify our thinking, and of course this also can lead to a modification of our actions. We can intentionally change the way we reference a situation or carefully choose our words,
By working with this team to recognise the language patterns and encouraging them to be conscious of how they were using language in their discussions we were able to both raise awareness and create a modification to the way the discussion proceeded.
Team members started to catch one another using divisive language and individuals were encouraged top use more collective and inclusive terms when describing the situation, and the other team.
I am not for a moment say that a simple change of language will solve the challenges that exist between the two teams – there is much more work to be done. However, one this I can absolutely guarantee is – until the teams modify the language they use when discussing the issue ZERO progress will be made to find a solution and in fact, it will simply get worse.
As a leader we have to be conscious and careful about the language we use. Every word we utter creates meaning. Our words are the external expression of what is happening in our thoughts, and therefore are a window for others into the way we think and feel. If we want to create an impact as leaders language is one of the best tools we have – whilst also being one of the most damaging when we are not careful in its use.
How conscious are you about the language you use? How often do you check in and get feedback about the way you express yourself?