The ability for leaders to speak carefully seems like a lost art. Our current national discourse has become increasingly partisan and hostile. It’s not unusual for politicians to engage in profanity-laced speeches. Social media is filled with rants that demean and criticize, all in 144 characters or less. There is a subtext of hate that permeates much of our public debate.
The way we speak about issues and concerns will have an impact on those who are listening. In the workplace, a leader’s intentions are often interpreted by how he or she communicates. Being tactful with one’s choice of words can make the difference between calming a volatile situation or stirring the pot to make things worse.
Being diplomatic doesn’t only mean that a leader is being cautious or polite. Sometimes a thoughtful, non-confrontational approach is what will work best to resolve the situation. A leader can speak the truth without offending or harassing those who see things differently.
I appreciate leaders who are direct and bold. But, if they aren’t careful with their choice of words and delivery, I may also feel threatened or overpowered by their apparent need to win the argument.
How we speak as leaders is a reflection of our trustworthiness and integrity. Here are just a few examples of unhelpful behaviors.
- Frequently exaggerating to make a point.
- Engaging in sarcastic rebuttals.
- Finger-pointing or blaming others for our own failures.
- Belittling those who may disagree with us.
- Caving in to avoid upsetting others.
- Defensiveness in the face of criticism.
- Excluding others who may upset you or to test their loyalty.
- Seeking retribution when someone has hurt us.
Changing these poor behaviors includes re-framing how you view the situation and those involved. It requires the leader to question the validity of their thoughts and acknowledge how they are contributing to the situation.
If leaders were more aware of the unhelpful behaviors highlighted above, and took steps to curb or avoid them, they would find that conflict in the workplace can be productive.
How we speak is a good place to start.