• Jon Mechan

Your Words Have Power


A few years ago I was given the opportunity to work with a coach who helped me with, amongst many other things, my unwitting use of language that was giving away my power.


You see, I'm English, and we have a habit of prevaricating and minimizing ourselves in conversation. I was brought up in an environment where the cultural norm was of modesty, and that can result in seeming weak when compared to the more confident outgoing appearance of, say, an American colleague.


When I moved to the US I had to adjust my communication to be more bold and forthright if I wanted to be heard. How, then, did I end up using weak language? Well, I lost my job in the US, and when looking for a new job I developed a bad habit of almost apologizing for everything I said. I went into chameleon mode, minimized myself and tried to stay small to be 'acceptable' to the companies I was applying to. This was a mistake, and it (mostly) didn't work. But the habit stuck, and followed me into my new role at my current employer.


The resulting communication weakness was something that I needed to work on in order to own my authority as a leader of a large global team, and to be a respected peer and member of the IT leadership team. Working with this coach helped shine a light on this issue that I hadn't even identified as a problem.

 

In your communication it's important to consider the cultural and social context. What works in one situation may not work in another, or may be considered rude or aggressive. For example, in a previous role I worked frequently with Japanese colleagues. In that context, when they said something would be 'difficult', what they actually were saying was 'no'. Being aware of things like this can make a huge difference in both how you communicate and how you develop stakeholder relationships.

 

Complicated power structures, in this case, in Kamakura, Japan


With that in mind, here are some things that you should consider avoiding.


Minimizers


"Just reaching out...", "Just wondering...", "Piggybacking on that...", "My two cents..."


All of these minimize your authority and your presence. Frequently they're also redundant, reducing the effectiveness of your communication.


I remember seeing an example a while ago online about the difference between junior- and senior-level communications - the junior email was a 10 line paragraph, the VP email was something like "Curious to hear your opinion on this". Be clear and concise.


Redundancy


"So...", "Actually...", "Honestly..."


The first two here are redundant and should be avoided. Honestly is honestly a problem - it implies that you're not being honest usually, even if you're using it as a figure of speech.


Hedges


"Maybe I missed something but...", "In my humble opinion..."


Another form of minimizer, these try to hedge in case your opinion is unpopular or 'wrong'. Own your viewpoint, and be prepared to defend it. This doesn't mean that you need to be aggressive, it means you need to think through your position and be ready and able to support it.


Power Reducers


"You're totally right...", "I think...because..."


Use "I agree with you" rather than "You're right..." - by using the latter you're giving your authority and power to the other person.


Justification is a little more nuanced - you don't always need to justify everything you say. Sometimes it'll make sense to do so, other times it won't.

 

This is list is by no means exhaustive - look out for your own patterns in communication and consider whether there's anything you might want to adjust.


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