By E. Elizabeth Carter
Can’t, won’t, don’t, and never are words that we may not realize but when used improperly in a team setting can really bring down the morale of the group. It is easy to see things negatively because it has actually been proven that as humans we gravitate to bad news or actions versus the positive. This is why reality TV and even the evening news are watched by so many.
However, when faced with a challenging project, a downturn in the overall productivity of a company, or a loss of a significant customer these “killer words” can do added harm to the situation. It is important for leaders then to choose their words carefully even if it means writing them down and practicing. One “slip of the lip” can prove catastrophic. It should also be impressed on others on the team to speak and act in a more positive manner.
The word “why” also has to be considered. What comes to mind from your childhood when someone asks a question using “why?” The answer may not be one you expect. “Why did you not do your homework?”, “why did you hit your sibling?” and the worst one, “why did you get sent to the principal’s office?” Such bad memories (even if you may have done these things directly) can affect a person’s reaction.
Lastly the phrase “I’m sorry” is a problem. There have been several articles published recently that state that we use this phrase too often; we apologize for things we have no control over and it just comes out of our mouths. As an example, I was interviewing a candidate who was about to board a train. The train station was noisy as one would expect but I had no problems hearing him. At the end of the conversation, he said “I am sorry for all the noise!” I told him to stop. Women tend to do it more than men too. The issue is that it comes across as not sincere so when you really do need to apologize give a reason. “I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings about… ” or “I am sorry that I let the team down because… ”
Of course swear words are not acceptable but it seems that they are being used a lot more especially with younger people, and it really turns others off to the point that they do not take these people seriously. Certain slang words and acronyms are also much more commonplace but again it can serve as a divider amongst generations and even genders.
Choosing your words carefully when speaking, writing, or using social media is critical. Take the time to read over what you wrote, or if you are not a good proof reader, get someone else to do it for you. Although non-verbal communications “speak the loudest” the words that are used can destroy or motivate a team, but it is up to the leader to be an example for the rest.