Have You Wasted Any Words Today?
Via LinkedIn : Have You Wasted Any Words Today?
Oh, let’s be honest. I’ve done it, and you probably have too. We tend to throw words around as if they have no value whatsoever and (even worse) as if they have no impact on our audience.
Some of the words we waste most egregiously in the workplace look nice and pretty on the surface — until we completely gut them of meaning.
- “I’m sorry.” (Well, not really. And I’m sure the heck not going to change anything.)
- “Yes, that deadline works for me.” (Except … no. Because it’s easier to lie about it upfront.)
- “Don’t worry! You’re doing great.” (Until review time comes along, and the gloves come off.)
- “We’re interviewing other candidates, and I promise we will get back to you next week.” (*Crickets*)
- “I promise to ________ (Fill in the blank with whatever you have no intention of actually doing)
Humans have been playing with words and their meanings since time began. Politicians, lawyers and marketers have elevated wordplay to an (often unfortunate) art form.
But our growing problem is that words are becoming verbal trash, tossed away as carelessly as a gum wrapper. We’ve gotten sloppy about what we say because we can always fall back on that stock excuse: “Well, that’s not really what I meant,” as if that excuses the damage we may have caused.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can carefully choose to use our words to empower, clarify, instruct and challenge. We can choose our tone as well with an eye to moving every conversation forward, not back. We can commit to conserving, not wasting, our words.
Your grandma was right.
If you can’t say anything nice, just stop … please, and don’t say anything at all.
Name-calling has become an accepted alternative to reasoned debate. Don’t like what someone has to say? Don’t argue their point with facts. Call them the expletive of your choice and that shuts everybody up. Done and done.
We say what we feel, not what we mean. Because it’s easier. It gets us attention. (And likes and retweets.) Worst of all, we are losing our ability to temper our worst impulses with kindness or self-discipline.
Resist the urge to bring any conversation to its lowest common denominator … especially when you don’t know the subject of your attack and are hiding behind your social media avatar.
Count to 10.
Or bite your tongue, step away from your phone, take a walk.
Culturally we’re suffering from a massive crisis in impulse control. Words spew out of our mouths and our fingertips as if they are in charge, instead of our brains. If you’re brave enough to see just how bad it’s gotten, Twitter is the place to be. (But don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
There’s a real beauty in giving yourself time to decide whether you really want to hurl that insult, make that false promise or fudge your way out of a problem.
“Let me think about it and get back to you” are some of the most powerful and honest words we can use. Few situations outside of a medical emergency require an immediate response.
This phrase is especially inspiring coming from a manager in a large meeting. Haste does make waste. Make the choice to model thoughtfulness instead.
Focus on the goal.
What do you really hope will happen when you say whatever is top of mind? Is it really going to get you better customer service, that promotion you’ve been aching for or bring some resolution to a difficult situation?
“Why?” is a great question to ask about the mission of your organization. Unfortunately, it’s an even better conversation stopper when conflict is afoot. Asking “Why?” immediately puts the other person on the defensive. (I know; I’ve felt that way … oh, about a million times.)
What’s more helpful are questions that come from a place of genuine curiosity. Delete accusatory words like “don’t,” “can’t,” “should” or “shouldn’t” from your vocabulary. (Now.) And try not to impress; try to understand.
- “What’s important about that?”
- “How would that look?”
- “What could change that?”
- “What might be causing that?”
When we stop rewarding people whose sole ambition is to look like the smartest one in the room, we can make an important shift toward consensus and collaboration.
Let your values be your guide.
Sometimes we hedge our words out of a misguided attempt to be kind or to avoid uncomfortable situations. But delaying the pain doesn’t lessen it; it magnifies it.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you can weasel out of a difficult conversation by simply deciding to zip your lip (or your fingertips). You need to find the way to address the issue without leaving the person on the receiving end feeling eviscerated.
If you have a job candidate dangling on a hook, for example, let him or her know when a decision has been made. Don’t feel that you have to walk into a legal bear trap by explaining why. Letting the person know they haven’t gotten the job means they can lick their wounds (because rejection always hurts) and move on.
Finally, if your values include world domination, prevaricating, bullying those lower on the corporate ladder, and taking no prisoners, let me suggest you start over. We can all do better.
Call others out when you suspect word-wasting: politely, but firmly.
Part of a word conservation program is stepping up and holding each other accountable for what we say. So if you suspect you’re being taken for a verbal ride, say something. Ask for clarity. Ask for precision.
I belong to a group where we share monthly business goals as part of our agenda, and yesterday we decided to create the equivalent of a “Swear” jar. If you don’t make progress on a goal you’ve made a public commitment to, you have to make a donation. Each quarter we’ll give the money to a worthy cause, with the hope that there won’t be much to share. (I suspect that the mocking and joking that will ensue the most motivating piece of all.)
Model the right behavior.
What do you mean when you say “I’m sorry?” Or when you promise a deliverable on a given date? Is your promise contingent on priorities or what else pops up that day or how you felt about doing it at all?
This is an opportunity for people in leadership positions to show those who report to them how it’s done.
And oh my gosh, yes: people are watching. Interns are watching. The kid who just graduated and is running your social media problem is watching.
Words are among our smallest but mightiest workplace tools: the foundation for a decent culture, capable of empowering great change, building bridges and offering hope. I’m anxious for their future, when we seem to hold them in so little regard. I long for the poetry of a sincere promise or constructive criticism or a kind word whether we know the other person needs it or not.
We don’t always need a lot of them (e.g., the Gettysburg Address). We do need the right ones. And the best time to stop wasting our words at work is now.
I’m a marketing communications consultant who helps small businesses and nonprofits connect with their customers and partners. I believe the words I use are among the most valuable things I own.
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