Words, words, words. Our society is full of words: on billboards, on television screens, in newspapers and books…. With so many words around us, we quickly say: “Well, they’re just words.” Thus, words have lost much of their power. *
– Henri Nouwen
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Transformational leaders choose words carefully.
In a column that I wrote to choral conductors about words, “5 Dumb Things Directors Say to Their Choirs,” I pointed out the some of the customary things directors say to choirs are not only unnecessary, but those words might be damaging.
Here’s a summary of that article and my suggested change in language to make a difference:
- “Circle the Note” – Usually when a choir misses a note or nuance in the music. Well, there’s already stress about missing that note or cue, so why add more by telling singers to make a mark in the music with no meaning. Remedy: if they are singing too loud, or missed in interval, or too high, etc. make a mark that informs them about what to do.
- “Watch the Director!” – This is really dumb! They already know to watch the director, so give them a reason to watch. Remedy: record yourself and watch the video to see if you want to look at yourself. Remember that nonverbal communications can be stronger that words alone.
- “Speak the Text” – This can be difficult when speaking text is different that singing vowels separated by consonants. We ask people to internalize bad habits, and then criticize them for doing what we asked them to do. Remedy: Create a process of awareness for getting a desired result that doesn’t create a bad habit.
- “You are Singing Too Loud” – How loud is it and how much too load is it? There’s no point of reference. Remedy: Try saying you are singing one dynamic level too loud, take it down a notch. We need to give the facts and then the desired action to fix it.
- “Why Did You Sing the Wrong Note?” – This is toxic! People are not intending to sing the wrong note and using the word “you” sets up a defensive response. Remedy: Point out the error and give specific corrective actions. Stick to the facts and don’t defame or criticize. Err on the side of giving grace in that there was no malice of intent.
Words build up.
Words tear down.
Carefully-chosen words facilitate effective communication. Although communication is fundamentally based on relationship and is not really about talking, words are important. Choosing words is a primary leadership skill.
The right words cut through the noise of the busy world of media, networking events, sermons, and children.
Poorly-chosen and badly-placed words can produce the opposite of the intended result.
Critical, thoughtless words can destroy or damage relationships.
Too many words negate any message and close communications with the receiver (not called a listener because the person has tuned out the noise).
Words without action expose a fake. Words without follow-through expose a lack of integrity.
One negative expletive displaces over 37 affirmations.
Carefully- and thoughtfully-chosen words build effective relationships and fortify healthy teams.
A leader’s words can:
- Show caring
- Provide affirmation and support
- Give support when refinement is needed
- Show kindness, rather than criticism
- Define a mentoring relationship
- Invite creative thinking
- Energize and empower teams
- Build respect
- Create pathways for communication
- Build a culture of collaboration
- Allow for individual thinking
- Create a consensus culture, promoting individual best thinking
- Allow for individual best practices and discourage “Group Think”
- Promote a culture of best practices
- Allow for a spirit of continuous improvement
Before you open your mouth – think.
Oh, by the way, silence, as punctuation, can be a very, very effective communication tool.
* Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 44). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
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