“Sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I say poppycock – or for my more candid readers, bullsh*! to that little mantra we learned as children. I’m not sure who came up with that, but it’s just not true. Words can hurt others and ruin relationships.
We live in such a fast-paced world with instant messaging and we communicate in short-hand so frequently, I think we often don’t really think about the words we choose to use. I’m here to remind you that your words do matter and taking time to consider the message you truly want to send to another person is time well spent.
As leaders, we can provide others with meaningful feedback about how to improve their performance without breaking their spirit. This is done by commenting on the behavior you observed as fact vs. making an evaluative statement about them as a person. For example, which comment helps facilitate a fruitful discussion: “I felt you were very upset when you slammed down your notebook. ” OR “I thought you should have controlled your temper instead of acting like a jerk!”
The first statement acknowledges what you saw and how it impacted you. In the latter statement, you are basically calling that person a jerk. It’s hurtful and most likely results in the other person getting defensive and argumentative — neither being productive! I’m not saying you have to sugar-coat a difficult message. Just remain objective, authentic and consider the impact your words will have on your audience.
Remember – be thoughtful in chosing your words. They can foster and mend relationships or tear them apart.
Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults and can be found on Twitter @MDuesterhoft.