3 Volatile Words Leaders Need To Use More Carefully


What are some of your "trigger words" or phrases? You know what I'm talking about. Those words used by others that ignite strong negative emotion as you hear them leave the other person's lips. For me it's phrases like "this sucks" or the frequent use of profanity.

While not as emotionally irksome as trigger words, I do think there are words we use as leaders that create a disconnect between what we want to say to someone and the message they actually receive. They include:

Here's how this one plays out. You say, "I want you to be a part of this team...BUT the quality of your work has to improve." With the way our brains are wired, the other person only heard that the quality of their work was not good. A better way of phrasing the sentence would be, "I want you to be a part of this team AND because of that I want to help you improve the quality of your work." It shows a genuine sense of wanting to help them grow in some way.

Reflect on what drew you to this blog post. Adding the word "need" implies a sense of urgency that you might not intend. How often do you get a sense of positive emotion when someone says, "We need to talk." A more effective word to use to convey a collaborative spirit is "want," as in "I want." There's less opportunity for the other person to feel like they have done something wrong and need to come up with ways to justify their actions even before you talk.

This word is so easy to use in a volatile way. When attempting to address an inappropriate or less than effective action taken by someone, we ask "Why did you do that?" Immediately that other person feels the need to justify their action, just like we did when we were kids. If, on the other hand, you were to say, "What was the thought process (or reasoning) you used to make that decision?," you can better determine the root of the problem. And using their information (instead of a list of excuses), you can help them chart a better course of action for similar situations in the future.

What other volatile words or phrases do you hear leaders use? Share your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email.

For More On This Topic:
How To Quickly Improve A Negative Conversation
How To Stop Sounding Like An Alien To Your Team