Effective communication is a key component of successful leadership, and an important contributing factor to developing effective communication is word choice. Carefully chosen words when communicating can help to empower, motivate, and guide teams more effectively. While many managers recognize the importance of word choice, it can be difficult to identify areas of improvement.
When communicating with a team or direct reports there are two main considerations: what to say and how to say it. While the message is incredibly important, how the message is communicated can directly affect how it is received and interpreted. Being conscious of how words can be used to properly communicate messages is an important skill for managers to develop.
These are some strategies to consider when communicating with a team and direct reports:
- Use Confident Verbs
Replacing words that undermine a leader's confidence is an important word choice consideration. Weak verbs should be substituted for more confident phrasing such as “we will”, “I know”, or “I believe” to convey reassurance and empowerment to a team. Dedicating time to developing more assertive language will help to improve team buy-in and can even contribute to improved self-confidence.
A common way that managers compromise their confident word choice is through over-apologizing
. While it is important for managers to be conscious of when they have made a mistake and to own their actions, over-apologizing can be a detrimental habit. Continuously apologizing for a mistake can present miscommunications and decrease credibility tremendously. Ultimately, over-apologizing spends unnecessary time and shifts managers away from their confident word choices.
2. Be Concise
Avoiding overly complex language and unnecessary jargon is a great practice for creating concise wording. Simplifying word choice can help ensure all team members understand and avoid confusion. Choosing specific words that are simple yet effective will also make communication more efficient.
When developing more concise language, eliminating idioms and metaphors can also prove beneficial. If a team member doesn’t understand a figure of speech or is unfamiliar with it, the phrase can lose its meaning and cause a lot of unnecessary confusion. Working to avoid such phrases can help ensure that everyone understands the message while eliminating unnecessary words that take up additional time.
3. Take Time
Devoting time to consider proper word choice is an underutilized practice. If an instance occurs that seems difficult to navigate and may not have a ‘right answer’, don’t feel pressured to respond right away. Stepping back and communicating that more time is needed before providing a firm answer can help to ensure ideas are communicated correctly.
Taking time to carefully consider a response can be done with both written and verbal communication. While more commonly implemented for written communication, stepping back from a conversation can be used with verbal communication similarly. During the conversation, indicate that more time will be needed to properly consider the next steps and provide a specific timeline of when they can expect a response. Clearly articulating the future steps is necessary to ensure that both parties understand when the situation can be resolved.
4. Specify Terms
When communicating with a team, specificity is key to ensuring everyone is on the same page. Terms such as ‘commitment’ may be interpreted differently across a team. To one team member commitment to a project may mean staying over time until completion, others may interpret commitment as delaying other projects until further notice. Being specific about how the team should be committed to the project would provide more unified results. Similar terms such as punctuality can also have varying interpretations across a team (or even between a manager and an individual). Clarifying expectations and being conscious of these words can help to ensure everyone has the same understanding.
Avoiding standardized responses to team members can also work to improve specific word choices. Rather than telling a team member “I will look over your work and get back to you”, more concrete language should be used “I will review your work and provide feedback
by Wednesday”. Articulating more specifically what the team members can expect will help them to feel more valued. Using generic language will leave increased ambiguity for team members and create an uneasy environment.
5. Positive Intent
Articulating a positive intent when communicating with a team is vital to improve morale. Even during difficult times, shifting language to have a positive frame will motivate employees.
When developing more positive word choice while relaying constructive criticism, avoiding the negative construction of sentences should be implemented. Words such as just, try, and maybe are passive words that aren’t empowering to a team. Using phrases like “we will’ gives a much more positive energy.
6. Inclusive and Respectful
Specifcially when communicating within a team setting, leaders must be inclusive of everyone. Utilizing words that address the group as a whole will ensure that everyone is prioritized throughout the meeting.
Avoiding unintended microaggressions is another key aspect of developing inclusive and respectful word choice. Addressing personal unconscious bias can work to consider how they may be present within word choice and help to take steps for more inclusive wording. Employee engagement and sense of belonging can be diminished when there is a lack of inclusivity and respect from their managers. By carefully considering word choice, managers can ensure everyone feels comfortable within the workplace.
Identifying strategies for improving communication is incredibly important in making adjustments, however, it is equally important to develop a plan to ensure consistency and proper application. An effective way to improve word choice is to model communication off of executives who are well-known for their communication skills. Finding executives with styles of communication that are effective can give inspiration on how to handle difficult situations or even more day-to-day examples.
A word choice reminder is another method that can be used to ensure consistency. Designating certain items such as a bracelet or ring as a word choice reminder can be a way to constantly form these beneficial habits. Even more directly writing a note or daily phone reminder to keep word choice in mind throughout the day can effectively make these adjustments.
When considering these strategies it is important to develop tangible ways to
Practicing the implementation of proper word choice strategies is one of the most effective ways to ensure improvement. Role-playing a scenario with a peer
can help to thoroughly consider the precise wording to use when tasked with communicating difficult messages to a team. During these practices, peers or coaches can help to provide feedback and continue to ensure effective communication.
Managers who recognize the impact of word choice can positively contribute to the improvement of their work environment. By developing strategies and concrete improvement steps, managers can enhance their communication skills and build a stronger team. Remembering that the words managers choose can have a direct impact on the productivity of their team will guide the team to be more effective and cohesive.