Why Managers Need to Mind Their Language

By Heather Campbell

By Heather Campbell >>

Organisations run like clockwork. People are cogs in a wheel. We are measured by our output. We report to line managers.

Using language like this turns organisations and employees into machines.

We use this language every day in our workplaces without considering its impact on the people and the organisation’s culture.

What impact do the words that you use as a business leader have on those you are leading? Or for that matter, are you a business manager with people who are managed? Both leading and managing have their value, it’s just that, used inappropriately, they can result in unexpected and undesirable outcomes. As the saying goes, officers don’t usually manage their men into battle.

We must consider the impact of the language that we use inadvertently in our organisations on an everyday basis. This is particularly true for language that has become so embedded in the culture that we don’t even notice it – because it is changing behaviours every single day, for better or worse.

The significant impact that language has is largely unrecognised. Asking eyewitnesses what they saw when two cars bumped into each other will elicit dramatically different estimates of speed and damage compared to asking them what they saw when the cars crashed into one another.

So whether managers describe people in their teams as working under them, for them or with them impacts the way those individuals respond. Whether we habitually respond to suggestions with “yes, but…” rather than “yes, and…” will have considerable influence on whether the conversation drains energy and creativity or leads to useful new ideas. Deciding to analyse a problem rather than look for a solution will change the perspective that people bring. Asking people to discuss, debate or examine an idea will change the levels of energy around the discussion and the amount of conflict that is likely to ensue.

It pays to choose the words we use with care. They play an active role in the responses we get and the outcomes we achieve.

Click here to view an excerpt from an interview I carried out last year with Professor Helen Francis at the Edinburgh Institute, Edinburgh Napier University. Helen is one of the UK’s leading researchers into the relationship between language and performance.

What kinds of language do you notice being used in your workplace? What impact does it have on people’s responses, motivation and engagement? Leave us a comment below…

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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