Let’s begin with a simple example:
“Hey boss, can I have time off? I worked throughout February, you know?”
“Hey boss, could I take some time off, please? I worked throughout the whole of February.”
Which one of these affects you most if you say them out loud? Probably the second one, right? While we could analyse why and break it down, the fact that it just feels different changes our perspective on what’s being said by how it’s being said.
We’ve all heard the expression, “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Certainly, the words we use are powerful to the extent that they can create major changes throughout the world.
Just a few examples of non-violent struggles driven by ideas and the inspiring words of a few include:
- Gandhi’s Salt March (1930) – helped to pave the way for India’s independence
- The Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56) – served as the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s
- The Singing Revolution (1986-91) – three countries gained their sovereignty after four years of demonstration, which mainly included singing national songs of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
Words can uplift, inspire, empower, and drive people to take positive action towards a shared and committed cause. On the other hand, words can also demean, oppress, depress, demotivate, and devalue us.
What we say doesn’t just have an impact on a grand scale. In the workplace, or even in a one-to-one situation, how we communicate with each other affects the relationship in some way, and can make or break our reputation.
Neuroscience has shown us that we mirror, and are affected by, each other’s emotions (known as emotional contagion), so much so that we can literally feel good or bad depending on what’s being said and how.
For example, imagine you’re in the office and you can hear two people arguing. You might not be able to make out every word being said, but it’s enough to make you feel uncomfortable, to put you on alert. Just that one incident is enough to affect your mood.
Similarly, if you hear people laughing while sharing stories, you’re bound to pick up the feel-good vibes that will lift you emotionally. This is why both leaders and employees – and each of us in our personal lives – would do well to remember the power of our words and the way we communicate.
Related: The Power of Words in Leadership
Self-awareness and effective communication
In the workplace, positive communication stems from two intentions: empathy and compassion. While empathy is neutral – how we experience others – compassion is what drives us to be aware of how we’re affecting those around us.
While we might not realise the effects of our communication, we all surely know what it feels like to be affected by the words of others.
So, how can we become more effective in how we communicate with others? The foundation for empathy and compassion is self-awareness, which is often talked about yet practised with less enthusiasm.
If we find ourselves frequently in error but rarely in doubt, the chances are our self-awareness could do with being developed further.
Here are some of my suggestions on how we can build on our self-awareness, and to ensure that what we say and how we say it can help us to become more effective communicators, build strong rapport with others, and create for ourselves a positive reputation and lasting credibility:
1. Keep a daily journal
This helps you to keep track of any interactions, events, thoughts and feelings you’ve experienced throughout the day. Research suggests that a daily journal is effective for processing emotions, and it also gives insights into what we did well and what we can improve on.
2. Set 15 minutes aside for self-reflection every day
Taking an honest look at who we are might seem like a luxury in our ever-demanding, fast-paced age…but it’s precisely for this reason that we should create time for self-reflection.
Otherwise, we simply get caught up in the same thought and behaviour patterns, and this is bound to lead to more frustration rather than help us to grow. (And yes, there is a right way to self-reflect.)
Check out: Leadership Nuggets: There Is Power in the Words You Use
3. Ask those close to you about your strengths and weaknesses
Generally, people are nice to us. Especially if we’re in a leadership position, the chances are that our days will be spend receiving smiles, thumbs up, and “Yes, boss!” While that’s great for the ego, it does little to help us get a sense of how we really are.
Being proactive in seeking out feedback on what we do well and what we do less-well (with examples) will greatly enhance our level of self-awareness and understanding of how we affect others.
4. Take personality tests
While there are issues with personality tests (e.g. questionable levels of reliability), they can help to give us some sense of where to start in understanding of traits and characteristics.
These tests aren’t designed to define who we are, nor are the results concrete. Instead, they give an overall sense of how our preferences, aversions, and communication styles come across to others.
For free, why not try the MBTI test, and the so-called ‘Big Five’ personality test and see whether you think the results are accurate.