Our words matter. Just as our body language and tone of voice send messages we didn’t mean to send, so do our words. Noticing and making a shift takes diligence as we change patterns that have become natural to us. Becoming more aware and mindful of our word choice leads to stronger relationships and greater success for you and your program. And this is true for both the written and the spoken word.
For years, I have been teaching writing Mission and Vision Statements to pre-service school librarians. I have given workshops on the topic, and invariably, unknowingly, librarians select weak words for statements that need to be powerful and compelling. When this happens our message gets minimized as a result.
“Enrich” is a common weak word. It sounds good when we say, “the library program enriches the curriculum” but what the budget-pressed administrator hears is, “It’s a nice extra, but the curriculum will do fine without the extra enrichment.” And the result? You won’t get funds. You may even be eliminated.
Surprisingly “support” is almost as weak. So is “extends.” You may know your program does this, but how vital does it seem to the administration? Your Mission and/or Vision needs to be under 50 words to make it memorable. You can’t afford to waste any of the words, and you certainly can’t use words that detract from it.
So what are your alternatives? “Fully integrated” (or at least “integrate’) implies that something important will be lost if eliminated. “Essential [to …]” is even better. While there is no guarantee your administrator will agree, proclaiming it positions you in a far better place in any discussions you have about the library program. It follows that by writing stronger words, you will use stronger words in your conversation,
In conversation, many of us have adopted phrasing that suggests we are not sure of ourselves. This is frequently a result of years of conditioning and not wanting to be “pushy.” But these phrases are subconsciously interpreted by others, making them less likely to see us as leaders.
“I feel” is high on my list of phrases watch or particularly when I am in a conversation with a stakeholder. “I know,” which suggests others should recognize the validity of what you said is so much more powerful. Sometimes “I think…” is a tentative statement. Other times it’s a more of a pronouncement. You need to be aware of whether you are making a clear statement or trying to avoid having to respond to someone who won’t agree with you.
Unsurprisingly, the business world is also aware of the damage words can inadvertently do. Christine Comaford identified 15 phrases that make leaders look weak She points to what she calls “verbal qualifiers.” These are her fifteen:
- Almost: I think I’ve said almost everything about that.”
- A Little: “She’s a little challenging to manage.”
- Sort Of: I sort of want to do that.”
- Kind Of: “I kind of think I will.”
- Maybe: “Maybe I’ll call you tonight.”
- Just: “I just called to ask how you are.”
- Sometimes: “Sometimes I feel…”
- May: “I may go to the movies tonight.”
- Might: “I might finish that today.”
- They: “They think…”
- Everyone: “Everyone says…”
- Someone: “Someone told me…”
- Probably: “He’s probably”
- As If: “I’m feeling as if…”
- Better: “I feel better.”
She explains the problems with verbal qualifiers is that “It keeps us from owning the statement we are making.” Strong leaders believe in what they say. They take ownership and invite others in.
As I said earlier, “think” is a word usually indicates you are hiding out and are hoping others will agree with you instead of taking a stand that others can join. Look at how many of the phrases above have “think” in them. If you use them, how could you rephrase and sound stronger/
- People judge us by our use of language, so it’s essential to be aware of our own
- Language structures reality. What reality would you like to live in? What persona would you like to present to others?
Consider your answers to her questions. Start listening to the words and phrases you use, as well as those used by others around you, and make the changes you need that allow you to speak as a leader.