Leaders Observe: The Power of Language

“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”  – C. S. Lewis

Language is PowerOur choices of words have impact on others. We can choose the words we use, however, that takes thought and intention, and we are just too busy to think about our words.

Well, there are implied messages in language. We use phrases and words because we think those words matter, when in fact the very words that we use betray us. There is control talk, power talk, and straight talk. There is also talk that is duplicitous, giving a meaning that is contrary to what we intend.
Here are some examples:


Power talk 
You have to… indicating that people have to do something when, in fact, they don’t have to do anything.


Duplicitous talk –
Bless his heart…as a preface to something critical when we want to be perceived as supportive of the person we are criticizing.
Let me be honest…when we want to emphasize a point as poignant, we use this honest language, not realizing that we are really saying that we have not been honest previously.
But…used to negate whatever comes before it.
In other words…used when we can’t say what we really mean first.


Filler words –
Again…usually a filler with the intent of emphasis and, typically, with a previous reference and totally annoying.
If you will…well, what if I won’t?
In other words…just use the other words, rather than using this distracting language.
I’m just saying…just say it!
Okay…typically used after every point and typically without the intent of a response, so why say it?


Zinger – 
Oh, by the way…used when we have upsetting information that will impact someone else’s life (usually negatively).


This is a random sampling of ways we, as leaders, confuse those whom we lead with language.


It’s better to use straight talk and say what you really mean, using a few words that are carefully chosen.


It’s not what we say that causes contention. It’s usually how we say it.


Are you really conscious of your use of language?


How about recording a conversation and then forcing yourself to listen to the recording? Make notes of how many times you could have chosen better words to express yourself.


Words are power.


Misuse of power causes problems.


Leaders influence others. Choice of words is the beginning of your position of influence.


Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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  • Skip

    Harry, thank you for sharing. You are always poignant, relevant and appreciated.