Skip to content

Words Matter in Leadership

“Words Matter,” I did not create this phrase.  The first time I heard it was from a great CEO I worked for, Gerry Agnes, at Elevations Credit Union. He used this short statement often.  However, these two words take on a lot of nuanced meanings.

When used in grammar and spelling, words say a lot about us, our competency, our perceived intellect, our education level and our ability to communicate effectively.  Although poor use of words or miss used words or lousy spelling and grammar may not be the result of us not being smart, engaged, conversational or educated but they can lead to that perception.  However, once someone has an opinion about you, how smart or educated you are, it is challenging to change or correct that perception.  Using proper grammar, spelling, and word selection is a learned skill that requires taking time to say and write things correctly but also to carefully and iteratively proofread your work or to rehearse your words internally before you verbalize them externally.  This process of self-correction and monitoring is also a way to learn to be a better communicator.

Words Matter when it comes to the types of words we use in conversations or presentations.  When used correctly words have power, create emotion, or inspire actions.  Some words are action words; “I will,” “We can,” “I need.” These words indicate power and persuasion and are words that inspire action. In contrast, “I would like to…”, “I hope,” “I think,” or, “my gut tells me.” are examples or words that signal weakness, lack of knowledge, lack of evidence, or lack of conviction. 

Words Matter also cause us to release emotions.  Words like, “I feel,” sets an emotional tone to the conversation. Emotional words also include, “I hate,” “I’m mad,” or profanity often trigger emotions.

Clarifying your goals for the document, conversation, or presentation will help you select the best words to say or write. If our goal is to create an inclusive conversation or debate, we must avoid words that trigger emotional responses. We know people buy from emotion first, so if our goal is to convince, or sell, using words that trigger emotional responses can be helpful. If our goal is to inform or teach, using words that communicate confidence and precision, are essential. I did not create this statement.  The first time I heard it was from a great CEO I worked for, Gerry Agnes.  He used this short statement often.  However, these two words take on a lot of nuanced meanings.

Words, when used in grammar and spelling, communicate our competency, our perceived intellect, our education level and our ability to lead.  Although poor word usage or lousy spelling and grammar may not be the result of us not being smart, engaged, conversational or educated but they can lead to that perception.  Proper word usage, grammar, and spelling are significant because once someone has an opinion about you, it is challenging to change or correct that perception.  Using proper grammar, spelling, and word selection is a learned skill that requires taking time to say and write things correctly but also to carefully and iteratively proofread your work or to rehearse your words internally before you verbalize them externally.  This process of self-correction and monitoring is also a way to learn to be a better communicator.

Words Matter when it comes to the types of words we use in conversations or presentations.  When used correctly words have power, create emotion, or inspire actions.  Some words are action words; “I will,” “We can,” “I need.” These words indicate power and persuasion and are words that inspire action. In contrast, “I would like to…”, “I hope,” “I think,” or, “my gut tells me.” are examples or words that signal weakness, lack of knowledge, lack of evidence, or lack of conviction. 

Words Matter also cause us to release emotions.  Words like, “I feel,” sets an emotional tone to the conversation. Emotional words also include, “I hate,” “I’m mad,” or profanity often trigger emotions.

Clarifying your goals for the document, conversation, or presentation will help you select the best words to say or write. If our goal is to create an inclusive conversation or debate, we must avoid words that trigger emotional responses. We know people buy from emotion first, so if our goal is to convince, or sell, using words that trigger emotional responses can be helpful. If our goal is to inform or teach, using words that communicate confidence and precision, are essential.

The critical point we need to remember in all communications, whether we are informing, teaching, convincing, or selling is to avoid words that undermine our perceived confidence, understanding of the subject matter, or expertise. In most situations, “I think,” “I hope,” or “my gut tells me” should be avoided.

That is not the end of the Words Matter story. If we want to be seen as professional and expert, we should in all cases be very clear in communicating what we know based upon empirical evidence, what we suspect based up the indicators from the evidence, or we think, that we are speaking from intuition, not fact. It is not an uncommon requirement to fall back on intuition (gut instinct.) When these situations arise, we need to be very clear to identify that you are speaking intuitively but also, establish what experience or information you have that leads you to this conclusion. These times are when robust, and at times, prickly debate ensues. Never, under any circumstances make a declarative statement that is not supported by empirical evidence. Always frame these statements as intuition or assumptions.

Your words and language and how you use them are part of your brand, so take care in their use.

About Rich Jones

Strategic consultant and Keynote Speaker, Rich brings a deep experience in the disciplines of Strategic Planning, Marketing, Business Development, Digital Transformation, Data Utilization, Leadership Development and Cultural Alignment. A husband, father, runner, cyclist, beer drinker with a passion for life.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll To Top
%d bloggers like this: