How Words Can Make Or Break Your Personality

May 26, 2017 1 Min Read


Each day presents itself with opportunities for us to connect with people, to build them up or to tear them down, to nurture our relationship with them or to halt it, to lead them on to greater heights or to stifle their growth. And the list of possibilities continue.

The single currency that we need to do that is with the words spoken that have been processed (hopefully!) by our brain.

As a result of this article, a reader wrote in with this poem. Check this out: Word – Watch By Lucille Dass (Poem)

The following scenario brings forth its own “leadership lesson in the lift!”

Two colleagues bumped into each other in the lift. They barely knew each other as both have recently joined the organisation. During the ride, they exchanged pleasantries, which however, left a bad taste in the mouth of one of them.

The conversation went like this:

Mee Lian: Going for lunch?
Boon: Yes. Are you off to a meeting?
Mee Lian: Yes. Going to meet your ex-employer. They “let the cat out of the bag!” (with a cynical smile)

Boon was puzzled at the remark. Stunned, to say the least.
It was a brief encounter, but one that is loaded with lessons on communication and interpersonal skills, both of which are key leadership competencies.

According to a recent survey, 51% of employers chose ‘great personality’ as the main criteria of a good employee; only 14% of them chose ‘qualifications’.

And when they were asked to rate the importance of certain skills in an employee, interpersonal skills and communication rate among the top five skills employers want. The survey was participated by more than 500 human resources professionals across various industries in Malaysia.

This might interest you: The Power Of Words In Leadership

Here are some suggested ways to avoid such awkward exchange from happening:


1. Filter your words

Use words that you understand. Remember the days in school when you were told not to use bombastic words in your essay? Essentially, it is to use simple words, and phrases that you understand.

Adhere to the same instruction in your verbal and written communication in the working world. Don’t try to impress. Know the meaning of the word or phrase before you use it.

Giving Mee Lian the benefit of doubt that she did not fully comprehend the phrase “let the cat out of the bag” and had no malicious intent, it was indeed foolhardy for her to use it. In a different encounter, it could cause her a promotion, a job, or a customer!

“Good prose should be transparent, like a window pane.” – George Orwell


2. Watch your body language

Tone of voice and facial expression are key elements of non-verbal communication. They play an important role in conveying the message. Is it respectful, formal, glazed with sarcasm and cynicism, or humourous?

It was a double-whammy when Mee Lian said with a cynical smile, “… your ex-employer. They let the cat out of the bag.”

Intentional or otherwise, her body language and tone of voice were patronising and cynical. It implied, “We have caught you!”

“People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.” – John Maxwell

See also: Was That A Blink Or A Wink?


3. Keep a measured distance

Unless you have already established a rapport with the person you are speaking to, it is best to keep a measured distance.

Do not be overly familiar in your verbal and non-verbal communication. Be “smartly casual” in your speech. Suffice to be pleasant; and not encroach into the personal space. This would help build a good working relationship progressively, instead of having it prematurely terminated before it ever had a chance to begin.


Concluding thoughts

Let’s take heed of these words as we progress on in our journey in life:

“You can have strong people skills and not be a good leader, but you cannot be a good leader without people skills.” – John Maxwell


Lin Lin is the editor behind the Leaderonomics Bahasa Malaysia website. How are you exercising self-control of your tongue? For more Thought Of The Week articles, click here. To write to us, email at

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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