Sometimes it’s not what you say, but the words you use to say it that can work for you or against you.
When working with hiring authorities at companies across the GTA, our staffing solution experts at The Bagg Group often help our clients find the right words for everything from a job performance review to a job description.
That is because we know from more three decades of interviewing candidates that words have the power to either inspire and motivate, or overwhelm and defeat.
It’s often surprising to bosses, but not to us, how employees can remember word-for-word line that a boss said to them, even years after it was spoken. Many top talent have picked up the phone to call The Bagg Group after a manager said something to them that left them feeling dispirited. Sometimes, when our expert recruiters probe further, we find that the manager simply used the wrong words to convey a message.
For example, telling employees they have a problem can trigger defensiveness and concern. But if you use the word challenge instead, people are likely be intrigued and open to tackling the issue.
In the same vein, if you tell someone that they are working for you on a project, they may feel as if they are meant to just fulfill orders, and their initiative and ideas aren’t necessary. But when you tell someone that they are working with you, they feel as if they are a contributing team member, whose input is valuable.
Richard Gallagher, author of How to Tell Anyone Anything: Breakthrough Techniques for Handling Difficult Conversations at Work, says the key to good communication in the workplace is to speak to your employees as if they are part of the solution, not the problem. He mentions, as an example, the internal employee slogan at WestJet, “We succeed because I care.” In other words, the employees view themselves, and are viewed, as key to the company’s success.
In his book, he cautions managers who want to seek improvement, or need to deliver bad news, from using standard workplace phrases that set a negative tone from the get-go. Telling people, “I hate to tell you this,” prompts them to put up a mental shield to prepare for bad news. But if you say, “There’s something you need to know,” the listeners will pay attention to discover the benefit to them in what is to follow.
Likewise, “I have no idea” suggests the conversation isn’t worth time or effort. Conversely, “I wish I knew” makes the listener feel like the speaker would help, if they could.
The simplest way to choose the best words is to put yourself in the place of the employee who will hear them. Do the words suggest possibility or make you feel defensive?
Finally, just ask yourself the question that almost always opens the door to improved communication, “Is there a more positive way for me to say this?” It’s amazing the difference a good word can make.