“I’m at a loss for words.” Such a helpless moment! We’ve all been there, I suspect. Can you remember a time when someone unexpectedly pushed your hot button and you became tongue-tied? I sure can. And that made it worse!
Too many people in the workplace simply don’t know what to say when faced with an issue, problem, or challenge. So they either say nothing or the wrong thing.
Big messes in business are generally the product of the wrong words delivered at the wrong time in the wrong way. The result often is:
- Customers furious with the phone rep’s comments
- Employees complaining to HR about their performance review
- Harassment suits or diversity complaints
- Poor morale
- Employee turnover
It’s not industry jargon that’s the issue here. It’s insensitive or antagonistic language, used by supervisors (and employees), that hits a nerve.
Companies need people who have a command of the language, so that they can:
- Describe performance behaviors objectively
- Open up collaborative discussions
- Address the needs of upset customers
- Resolve disputes
- Provide compelling reasons for change
The right words clear up misunderstandings, change behavior, build teamwork, and influence progress. The wrong words create dissention, alienate employees, paralyze growth, and build distrust.
Words give you control.
Successful careers are a function of your ability to use words effectively. You need words to:
- Describe the root cause of a problem
- Provide justification for a raise, promotion, or special assignment
- Promote the value of the work you achieved
- Build positive relationships
- Make effective presentations
- Sell your innovative ideas
Never underestimate the power of words and the asset value they have to your career.
A case in point
I was an English major working in an engineering company. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the language of this business, a Fortune 500 energy corporation, was technical. Papers and memos were loaded with analyses and endless minutia, regardless of the needs of the reader.
Part of my job was to convert the language of complex energy issues into information easily understood by customers. My challenge was to “translate” engineering “speak” into laymen’s terms without compromising the accuracy of the information.
It didn’t take too long until I realized how much influence this role gave me. It became my brand and stayed with me with every career move.
I realized that word power creates the opportunity to influence ideas, thinking and action. Here’s how you can enjoy this advantage:
- Offer to take the notes at strategy meetings where you summarize the key points in complex discussions. The words you use can influence direction.
- Prepare position papers on subject matter important to your work group
- Write internal marketing and branding language for your team
- Volunteer to draft “discussion documents” (often called straw men) for key meetings
- Draft a performance self-appraisal at evaluation time
Go ahead. Write the words. No one else wants to.
That’s the truth. Writing—struggling to find the correct words and preparing documents—is the last thing most of your colleagues want to do. It’s drudgery to them, mostly because “they don’t have the words.” Not only will you have an outlet for your perspective, you will “save the day” but taking that burden off someone else.
Look, words are important. It’s how we keep the craziness of the world in perspective. We need to put labels on things so we can manage them. If you can do that at work, you’ve got a huge edge. Business fitness includes attracting a following. I guarantee you that the right words are your best hook!
Do you have a “loss for words” moment to share? Or a time when words saved the day? The word’s the thing!