Words matter

Smart leaders know they are scrutinized with every word and action taken. As a leader, how and what you say has consequences. You need to watch your words, they are extremely influential.

With position, power, and influence comes responsibility. We yearn for leaders we can believe in and trust. Let’s have a frank conversation about why you must watch your words.

We cannot read minds.

Leaders, we want to know what you think. We want to know where you are taking us. We know you will make decisions and take actions in the future that will affect us. How you present your ideas persuades us to either follow or resist. Most of us are not in our circle of friends or influence. One of the ways to understand what you think is to pay attention to what you write or say. Your words matter to us.

Turn us into believers.

You need to prove to us that you are trustworthy. We are sceptical of leadership. Before you open your mouth or hit send on your mobile device, please check your facts. Once it comes out of your mouth, you cannot take back what you said. Yes, you can spin a message or apologize for a misstatement but each time you do, you chip away at your credibility.

We connect with people who we believe are credible. We follow leaders we trust. Stephen M. R. Covey gave us a practical model for credibility. We look for all four of these characteristics to determine if a leader is credible: integrity, intent, capability, and results. We will assess your character (and whether we like it). Then we will look deep to understand your integrity and your intent. What you say gives us visibility and clarity to both.

Silence is acceptance

We evaluate leaders by what they say.  We evaluate leaders by what they don’t say. It troubles us when you do not call out bad performance or behaviour. If my co-worker’s performance is below standards and you fail to address it, we think you are either showing favouritism, a hypocrite or a coward. We hold leaders to a high standard and we want you to live up to it.

Be careful of your timing and tone.

Words can instantly inspire, inform, motivate, explain, upset, scare or divide. Words matter so do “when” and “how” you deliver your message.

We recognize it is difficult for you to determine the right time to comment on tough issues. However, in the absence of your statements, we make up stories in our heads. Science tells us that once we make up our minds, it is harder to move us in a different direction.

Your tone is important. We want to believe you are sincere and mean what you say. We see mixed messages when your tone and words do not match. The tone circles back to your credibility and believability.

10 Ways To Watch Your Words And Communicate Effectively

Paying attention to the words you use is critical.  Here I set out 10 ways to watch your words and communicate more effectively.

1. Communicate Clearly and Concisely

Using clear and concise language is essential for avoiding misunderstandings and ensuring that your message is effectively received. Avoid jargon and overly complex sentences; instead, choose simple words that convey your meaning directly. By doing so, you show respect for your audience’s time and intelligence, enhancing trust. Precision in language minimises the risk of misinterpretation, making your communication more reliable and trustworthy.

2. Be Honest and Transparent

Your words should always reflect honesty and transparency. Avoiding euphemisms or sugarcoating difficult news helps in building credibility. When you openly share the reasons behind your decisions and the challenges you face, you foster an environment of trust. Transparent communication demonstrates that you are reliable and willing to be open, which strengthens the trust of your team and stakeholders.

3. Listen Actively and Respond Thoughtfully

Active listening is not just about hearing words but understanding the intent and emotion behind them. Respond thoughtfully, using words that show you have fully comprehended the message. Paraphrase what you’ve heard to confirm understanding and ask clarifying questions. This approach shows respect and validation, making others feel valued and building stronger trust.

4. Show Empathy in Your Language

Empathy in communication means choosing words that convey understanding and compassion. Acknowledge the emotions and perspectives of your team with phrases like “I understand how you feel” or “I can see why this is important to you.” Using empathetic language helps in building a connection and shows that you care about their well-being, which is essential for trust.

5. Be Consistent in Your Messaging

Consistency in your words ensures that your team and stakeholders know what to expect from you. Avoid contradicting yourself, as this can create confusion and mistrust. Whether in emails, meetings, or casual conversations, maintain the same tone and messaging. Consistency reinforces reliability and trustworthiness, showing that you stand by your words.

6. Provide Constructive Feedback

When offering feedback, your words should aim to build, not break. Focus on specific behaviours or outcomes rather than personal attributes, and frame your feedback in a way that encourages improvement. Phrases like “I noticed you did X, and I think doing Y could help improve that” are more constructive. This approach ensures that feedback is received positively and supports a trust-building environment.

7. Maintain Confidentiality with Careful Language

Respecting confidentiality involves choosing your words carefully when discussing sensitive information. Avoid sharing details that are not yours to share. Use discretion in your language to protect privacy, showing that you can be trusted with important information. This careful handling of words reinforces trust and respect within your team.

8. Acknowledge Mistakes Openly

Admitting mistakes openly involves using honest and humble language. Say, “I made a mistake in X, and here’s how I plan to fix it,” rather than deflecting blame. Owning up to errors with straightforward words shows accountability and integrity, which are critical for building trust. It also sets a positive example for others to follow.

9. Encourage Open Dialogue

Use inclusive and inviting language to foster open dialogue. Phrases like “What are your thoughts?” and “I’d love to hear your perspective” encourage others to share their ideas and concerns. This open communication style shows that you value input and are approachable, which helps in building a culture of trust and collaboration.

10. Celebrate Successes with Genuine Praise

Recognise achievements with sincere and specific words of praise. Instead of generic compliments, say things like, “Your work on the X project was outstanding because of Y.” Genuine and detailed praise shows appreciation and reinforces positive behaviours. Celebrating successes with heartfelt words strengthens morale and trust, as it shows you notice and value contributions.

Language makes us human. Words have power. They evoke thoughts, emotions, and reactions. Great leaders and communicators have a unique ability to use words to draw us toward them. We hope you take to heart what we have said. Our words matter too.

  • About the Author
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Connie Wedel is a US-based global HR executive, leadership coach, equal rights advocate, global citizen, writer, speaker, and mom. Her background includes working with businesses, leadership, and employees over 6 continents across various industries.

Connie holds an Executive Masters in HR Management from Cornell University. She maintains SPHR, GPHR, SHRM-SCP certifications and teaches Organizational Behavior at the University of California, San Diego., She is periodic contributor Business Insider, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Ellevate Network.