Executive Insider

Your Language Choices Are Hindering Your Team’s Success

Work is part of our lives; it should be blended into our existence to create a natural, comfortable, successful rhythm. Why, then, do we fundamentally default to putting it first in the elusive work-life balance equation?

Our society is so focused on work first that when you Google “life-work balance,” even the world’s premier search engine gets it wrong, with 75% of the top results coming back as “work-life balance.”

I am not okay with this. Not in a Google search and certainly not in our lives.

I believe that the way you speak about something is a window into what you think about it and how you feel about it, which then shapes the action you take and, therefore, the results that naturally follow.

Your words do much more than serve as a mechanism for communication; your words create your reality. Putting attention on the language you use is a way to bring intention to the lens through which you see the world, and, as a result, the way you experience it.

The Impact Wake

In my coaching work, I never start a session with “what are we working on today?” Instead, I ask, “what are we playing with today?” Notice your reaction to play versus work?

The same concept applies in meetings of all sizes: team, departmental, and even in the c-suite or boardroom.

Bringing the idea of play into the discussion as you and your team navigate new concepts brings new life to the ideas presented and creates a safe space for brainstorming, exploration, experimentation, and comfort to be both right or wrong.

As a leader, your words carry weight. Your language changes the experience for those that you lead. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to become aware of and make intentional choices about the language you use. You are responsible for your impact wake.

For example, is your language guiding your team to exciting and uncharted territories, or are you disrupting your team’s ability to communicate, share, and innovate?

REWIRE Your Thinking

If you feel you’re disrupting your team’s ability to succeed or limiting your own success, it is time to rewire your approach. Here are six steps you can take to transform the way you speak to yourself and your team:

  • Reflect
    When you’re thinking about your personal dreams and challenges, what language do you use to describe them? When thinking about your team’s successes and failures, what language are you using to describe them? Notice then, how do your language choices support or limit possibility?
  • Experiment:
    Create two columns. On the left, list all of the words of external motivation or control: need to, have to, ought to, should, must. In the right column, list all of the words that describe internal drivers: want to, get to, blessed to be able to. When you find yourself using language from the left column, swap it with phrases from the right. If the swap feels awkward, it’s a good indicator of what’s important to you and what’s not, what’s true for you and what’s not.
  • Write:
    Document the findings of your experiment.  Play with your thoughts, emotions, and outcomes. Notice your reactions to changing the language. Which swaps were easy to make? Which were more challenging? Which felt natural and which did you resist.
  • Investigate:
    Do an audit of your most commonly used ‘go-to’ phrases. Sort through your findings, and examine the results of the writing exercise. What do you notice about the feelings behind the words? How do they reflect what you believe or don’t believe?
  • Revise:
    Try the experiment again. If “I get to…” doesn’t feel useful, choose language that does. Identifying the motivation underneath often leads to a more positive energy. See how articulating the motivation changes your language. Make sure the words you choose inspire you and don’t feel forced in any way.
  • Expand:
    Stretch yourself by using your revised phrases in more challenging areas of your life.  Share your findings with your team and encourage them to REWIRE their thinking around the language they use.

Words matter, and the words that matter most are the ones you say to yourself. And the words you choose as a leader shape the experience of those you lead. Be authentic. Be intentional. Be aware of your wake.

Start taking notice of the worlds your words create.


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David Taylor-Klaus
David Taylor-Klaus is the author of the forthcoming book Mindset Mondays with DTK: 52 Ways to REWIRE Your Thinking and Transform Your Life, and the founder of DTK Coaching where he reintroduces successful entrepreneurs and senior executives to their families. A serial entrepreneur, David is recognized for combining candor, intelligence, and humor with masterful coaching. He challenges leaders and their teams to reach their highest performance levels in their personal and professional lives. David Taylor-Klaus is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.