The power of words – it’s something we talk a lot about in the world of consulting. Whether it be verbal or written, consultants need to be masters of language to make strong recommendations. But it’s not just consultants. Everyone stands to benefit from the power of words. Words have meaning on their own, but the way you use words says a lot about you as a person. We derive words from our innermost thoughts, so others will look at your words as a reflection of character. Amid a busy working life, it can be hard to think critically about your own relationship with words. So, let’s take some time to think through how words get their power and how you can harness that power.
The Power Of The Spoken Word
The invention of words remains one of mankind’s greatest feats. Today we hang on every word that politicians say – words that are amplified across a myriad of social media platforms. The power of the spoken word comes from the interpretation of those who listen. Why? Because those who listen to spoken words make judgments about the speaker and the speaker’s intentions. To really inject the power of words into your speech, think about how your communications are landing.
Make others genuinely care and want to engage with who you are as a person. Experts mention various strategies on this front. For starters, choose words carefully to fit a given context. We have the tendency to speak before thinking, so taking a moment to gut-check word choice goes a long way. Second, be true to yourself. “Be yourself” always sounds cliché, but if you don’t articulate things in an honest way, you’ll mislead people around you. In fact, in a recent interview with Jenny Rae Le Roux, Amber Grewal’s (lead talent Partner at BCG) number one piece of advice was to simply be yourself.
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The Psychology of Words
If interpretation creates the power of words, how exactly do people go about interpreting? In other words (no pun intended), what is the underlying psychology of words? The subject is getting more and more attention from academia. The easiest way to think about word psychology is by dividing words’ meaning into two. One-part inherent meaning, one-part attached meaning. The latter being additional meaning we attach to words through our emotions, tone, and general intensity. Pick almost any word in the English dictionary, and it can mean very different things spoken by different people in different settings. The point is, words provide a window into the speaker’s psyche. Listeners subconsciously consider all aspects of word delivery to form educated opinions about the speaker. As you prepare for your next team meeting, put some thought into these external factors that surround words themselves.
The Spoken Word As A Leadership Tool
You can’t talk about the power of the spoken word without talking about leadership. And there is certainly a high level of correlation. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand the power of their words, and, as we often say, “have a way with words.” One of the most effective ways business leaders use words as a leadership tool is by shaping culture. Now more than ever, employees want to work in transparent environments where leaders say what they mean. Creating such environments takes a healthy cadence of communication on both light and heavy issues. It’s also important to note that “leader” does not always equal CEO. A leader is anyone at any level who thinks about collective improvement and selflessly rallies others. Under the umbrella of shaping culture, feedback is another key pillar of a leader’s approach to words. Especially as it relates to the psychological effects of negative words. Not that feedback is strictly negative, but in a poorly managed culture it can be. Leaders who understand the psychology of words know that organizations need dynamic feedback cycles – for praise and constructive criticism.
There is a lot to unpack when it comes to the power of words. We spend so much time communicating, but so little time thinking about the impact of our communication on others. If nothing else, remember that you fully control your words, but only partially control how others perceive those words. Good leaders (and the best consultants) take advantage of that partial control, tapping into their EQ to tailor communication to the audience.
And while mastering your words primarily affects those around you, there are personal benefits as well. Speaking with honest conviction builds self-confidence and helps alleviate anxiety. Sure, you may run into conflicts with certain people, but many conflicts result in productive outcomes. It’s worth taking time to think about the impact of your vocabulary – the positive impact on your personal and professional life can be immeasurable!
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