I can’t say enough about the power of words and conversations. Changing certain conversations can change the course of your direction and results for the better or worse.
People say that “Talk is cheap“. That is not true! Talk is very powerful, but we tend to make talk ‘cheap’ by speaking in ways that either don’t make any difference or that undermine what is important to us.
For example: If a commitment we have or a project we are working on isn’t going well, complaining about it, or blaming others for why it isn’t working won’t make a difference and won’t change anything. In fact, it would most likely make things worse. Blaming others may be based on a legitimate reason, but apart from making them wrong and making you right, it won’t change the outcome.
Alternatively, feeling bad or ‘guilty’, or beating yourself up and blaming yourself is the opposite side of exactly the same thing – undermining and doesn’t make a difference.
People also say:
“Actions speaks louder than words“
Well, that is not true either. Words are action and action depends on words to make it most effective and impactful.
For example: If a Rabbi or Priest pronounces you and your spouse “Man and wife” your life just changed. If a judge declares you “Innocent” or “Guilty” that will affect your world. And, if the president of your country declares war against another country, that will affect your life too. Words are very powerful. They shape and alter the course of our life.
Alternatively, if you take an action with the intention of helping someone, but that someone doesn’t interpret your action consistent with how you intended, most likely you will create upset or other negative effects. The road to failure and disappointment is often rife with good intent. Or as we sometimes refer to it: “Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons”.
The power of words and conversations manifests in organizations every day. If you go to any organization and you pay attention, you would hear, see and sense it. In some organizations the conversations circle around victim conversations. People whine a lot, complain, blame and make excuses a lot. In other organizations, there is zero tolerance for excuses and blame. Instead, the conversations orient around commitment. People don’t care about who’s fault it is. They only focus on conversations that make a difference like: requesting, promising and declaring commitments. These two sets of conversations are drastically different and you can clearly hear them in both the formal and informal conversations in any organization, and see them in people’s actions and behaviors.
I have worked with organizations that were dealing with very challenging market conditions. When I came in to help them people were complaining about their circumstances, making excuses and blaming other functions in their organization for their struggling performance. When we shifted the internal conversations and rhetoric from “excuses, justifications, and complaints” to “declarations, requests, and promises”; from “cynicism and resignation conversations” to “holding each other to account and highlighting successes“, their performance and results started to shift too.
I have also seen organizations that had very strong market conditions. They tried to launch new initiatives and ideas, but because their internal conversations stayed cynical, complacent and circumstantial they didn’t succeed, they didn’t stay the course and they couldn’t leverage the tailwind they had to achieve the growth they wanted. Instead of taking responsibility for their behaviors and failures they continued to blame the market and their competitors, and they stayed stuck.
The moral of the story is:
Words and conversations are powerful actions – if you shift the conversations and rhetoric in your team, your behaviors and results will follow.
However, actions without conversations are not as powerful – if you keep doing more of what you have done, and even try new things, but you don’t shift the conversations to be more commitment, ownership, and action-oriented, your results most likely won’t shift much either.
The power is in the conversations, which is good news, as it is not that hard to shift conversations. Focus on shifting your team’s conversations to be consistent with the type of dynamics, behaviors, and results you want, and see what happens.