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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Words Matter

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #167

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"Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another." – Napoleon Hill

As leaders, the words we choose hold significant weight. Consider my recent discussion with an organizational leader with whom a twenty-year employee plans to leave due to substantial changes occurring within the organization. In our discussion, we explored the crucial role of an exit interview and how it can be a platform for empathetic communication. Let's look at two contrasting examples of how the choice of words makes a difference:

  1. If you cannot adapt to our changes, perhaps it is best to leave. Change is inevitable, and if you cannot handle it, it might not be the right place for you.

  2. I understand that the recent changes have been challenging and that it's not an easy decision for you to leave. Your contributions have been valuable, and I respect your feelings about our direction. If there's anything we can do to support you during this transition or keep you on board in a different capacity, please let me know. Your well-being and satisfaction are important to us.

In both examples, the leader's choice of words significantly impacts the outcome and conveys what the leader values. Thank about the possible outcomes of each example and the associated core values. This week's blog explores the importance of words and how leaders can choose words that inspire, support, and influence.

We know how great leaders like Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela's words would motivate, encourage, and influence. You may or may not be a successful orator, but the words you choose in every conversation matter. The words leaders use every day have a significant positive or negative impact. Positively, they can build trust and credibility, foster a sense of purpose and direction, and encourage resilience and perseverance within their teams. Conversely, poor word choices can erode trust and morale, lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding, and create a toxic environment. Effective communication from leaders is crucial in shaping the culture and success of their organizations.

Chose Words That Inspire

When choosing motivating words, it's essential to think about your audience and tailor your message to match their needs and values. Be clear and concise in your communication, avoiding jargon and overly complex language. Offer helpful feedback and positive reinforcement to highlight positivity and encouragement. The keystones of effective communication are authenticity and honesty. They not only establish trust but also make your audience feel secure. Prioritizing these values fosters a supportive environment.

Techniques for Effective Communication

Remember the following effective communication techniques:

Use storytelling to convey messages and connect emotionally.

Practice active listening to understand and respond appropriately.

Employ repetition and reinforcement to ensure critical messages are remembered and acted upon.

In addition, nonverbal communication, such as body language, tone, and facial expressions, is crucial in delivering your message effectively.

The Dual Nature of Words: Context and Delivery in Communication

The impact of words in communication largely depends on the context and delivery. The exact words can be perceived as positive or negative, depending on how they are used. For example, the word "confident" can be a compliment when said with admiration, as in "You are confident in your abilities," suggesting strength and assurance. However, if delivered with disdain, it can imply arrogance, as in "You're too confident," suggesting overbearing self-assurance. Similarly, "assertive" can be viewed positively when highlighting someone's ability to express their ideas clearly and firmly, as in "Your assertive approach is effective," but negatively if perceived as aggressive, as in "You're too assertive," implying pushiness. The word "independent" can praise someone's self-reliance, as in "You are very independent," or criticize their inability to collaborate, as in "You're too independent," suggesting a lack of teamwork. Thus, the exact words can inspire or demoralize based on the speaker's tone, body language, and the overall context of the conversation.


In this edition of Leadership Thoughts, we emphasize the crucial role that word choice plays in effective leadership communication. Leaders' words can be the catalyst for success or the harbinger of failure in the minds of others. To illustrate this point, we present a case study of an exit interview with a long-term employee, showcasing the stark contrast in outcomes when using empathetic versus dismissive language. Clear and impactful communication is not just important; it is essential for building trust, fostering purpose, and promoting resilience within an organization. On the other hand, poor communication can have detrimental effects on morale and contribute to a toxic work environment. Effective leaders utilize tools such as storytelling, active listening, and mindful nonverbal cues to enhance their communication skills. It is essential for leaders to recognize that their words hold significant influence over organizational culture and ultimately impact success. Please take a moment to reflect on your own communication style and how it shapes the environment around you.


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