We have all heard the expressions “words are cheap” or “action speaks louder than words.”
That is not true! In fact, words are the most powerful tools we have to create realities and make things happen.
Let’s take some universal examples: When a priest or rabbi pronounces a couple “man and wife” a new reality is created from his or her speaking. When a judge sentences a person as guilty or not guilty that is a real and immediate outcome and reality. And, when a president of a country declares war on another country the world changes in that moment out of that declaration. These are all words that create a world.
These are big examples. Think about day-to-day stuff. When a man asks a woman “would you marry me?” and she says “yes” (or “no”) a new reality is just born. In fact, every time someone promises or asks someone else for something specific that conversation creates an outcome, direction and reality.
The problem is that most people don’t know how to use words so they use words that are designed for one thing for another – they use words that are designed to create possibilities and ideas when we they are trying to drive action. Or, they use blank words that don’t create anything when they are trying to dive ideas and possibilities.
It’s like a chef using the wrong knifes for different ingredients … or a carpenter using the wrong tools to cut wood.
In all these crafts there is obviously an art and a science. The art is expressed in the personal style, touch and taste. However, there is also a science – If we want to be effective we have to use the right tools for the right intent and outcome. It is the same with words.
In my last newsletter I wrote a brief lesson in the Leadership on a Napkin segment about words. I want to elaborate a bit more on this topic as it is a relevant and powerful one, and I see people and teams struggling with, and missing the mark on this all the time.
Here are my practical recommendations:
Stop saying “we need to do…” “we should do…” or “we have to do…” take these phrases out of your vocabulary. These statements may be valid, perhaps even true. However, they don’t make any difference in creating possibilities or driving action. They are conceptual descriptions that keep the conversation theoretical and hypothetical.
I hear these statement stated too many times in conversations. In most cases when people say these things others roll their eyes, go to email or simply disengage because they feel these statements are just pronouncing the obvious. These often show up as “blah…blah…blah.”
These statements don’t come from commitment and they don’t evoke commitment. They make the speakers feel as if they are expressing something important…a commitment. But, in reality these are very safe statements that don’t put the speaker on the hook for anything. And, the listeners often feel lectured to.
And if you need another logical reason why these statements don’t make a difference: people simply don’t do what they need to, should or have to. So, pronouncing it doesn’t change or move anything.
So, what words do make a difference?
If you want to create a new possibility or let the world know who you are and what you stand for you should use the words “I want to do…”
This still doesn’t directly and immediately evoke action. However, it puts your ass on the line for something, it makes the conversation personal and it puts something at stake for the speaker.
These words do not express a description. They are a declaration. These clearly are powerful words of commitment that engage and compel people. It gets people’s attention and touches their hearts. I have seen people wake up, sit straight and pay attention when others are declaring what they want… how they want the reality and future to be for the team.
Even though “I want” isn’t a conversation for action it provokes the conversation that leads to action. If someone says “I want to do this…” others are likely to say “So, what are you going to do to make it happen?” Just like people don’t do what they should, people don’t do what they want to. However, when they declare what they want they are more likely to take action.
If you want to drive committed action and accountability use the words “We will do…” or “I will do…” These words express a promise. While there is no guarantee in life about anything, people are more inclined to do what they promise than what they want or should.
Also, when people promise things they are more inclined to track what they are promising. And, if they drop the ball or don’t behave consistently with what they promised it is more likely to become a personal or collective integrity issue for individuals and/or the team.
Photo credit: Tulane Public Relations