Your words, however clear you make them, will likely still be misinterpreted.
So it’s incumbent upon you to think through what they may be mistaken to mean BEFORE you open your mouth.
Talk with more than just your fan club
The problem is that many leaders consider only how their words will ‘land’ with their constituency – that is, the people who ALREADY tend to agree with whatever they say. But leaders do not have the luxury of preaching only to the choir – not if they want to be effective leaders, that is.
Therefore, considering – in advance – how your words will be received by those who don’t already buy-in is an essential Leadership Move.
- Consider Example #1: A new boss was hired from the outside to help affect an internal culture change. Yet in the process of explaining his mandate, he scoffed at how poorly things were currently being done.
Now he may, in fact, have been right, but that is not the point.
The point is that he quite possibly just insulted – and demoralized – all the good people who have been working their tails off since before he even arrived. And that’s a reaction that certainly could have been anticipated.
It would have been much better had this leader realized that no matter how bad things had become, there was likely SOME people whose work could be built upon. If this leader had acknowledged their achievements BEFORE moving on to what could be improved, he would have garnered their support, rather than them feeling ignored and disrespected. “What’s important to me,” he might have said, “is that we know what we’re aiming at. So I want to recognize some particularly strong work I’ve seen so far as a base to build upon.”
- Consider Example #2: A boss crowed to her department that she just solved another problem for one of her work groups – the same work group that she tends to always help out.
Now she may, in fact, have done some very fine work, but that is not the point.
The point is that she just possibly insulted – and demoralized – staff in her other work groups by so blatantly playing favorites. And that’s a reaction that certainly could have been anticipated.
It would have been much better if this leader talked about how, by virtue of her position, has the authority to help with EVERYONE’S nagging problems. “The clearer you can articulate your work group issues to me,” she might have said, “the sooner I can work to improve matters, regardless of what work group you’re in. But if you don’t tell me, you can’t blame me for not addressing it.”
Think before you speak
Anticipating negative reactions is not difficult. All you really have to do is ask the question: “How might my words be misinterpreted?”
And then modify them, accordingly.
While you may not get it exactly right, at first, the chances of not making things even worse are dramatically better.
For the little time it takes, it’s well worth the effort.