"Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more." - Confucius
Words are powerful, and words spoken by leaders have even more power. Because you're a leader, your words can build up or tear down. They can either stoke or dampen enthusiasm. Your words can bring out the best or elicit the worst in people.
When you use the right words, as Confucius said, you can "know more." You can comprehend where someone is coming from and get a better grasp of the situation. And because you have better visibility, you can make better decisions.
Using the right words will also make you a more effective leader, one who motivates and elicits the willing cooperation of your team.
If you want to become a more powerful leader, here are five words and phrases to use:
The word "and" is inclusive. It expands, it joins, it connects.
Using "and" instead of "or" makes you a more powerful leader, because you recognize that there are many more possibilities than what others see. You think in a less binary way. The choices aren't only A or B. They're A, or B, or A and B. You're opening up the possibility of doing both A and B, of things coming together. Simply by using "and," you've already expanded the options.
When we were four years old, we annoyed the grown-ups with a litany of "why" questions: "Why is the sky blue?" "Why do we need to sleep?" It signaled a developmental milestone. We had grasped the concept of cause and effect.
Somewhere along the way, many adults stop asking why. As a leader, you cannot afford to. When people bring you ideas, or when something happens, you want your people to be better at understanding what's going on, and to give you better information. That takes prodding.
Asking "why?" both of others and internally to yourself is powerful. By asking why, you will explore the inner workings of events, and come up with solutions that address root problems. You will discover the deep motivations of people, and find ways to fully engage them.
"Tell me more"
When your initial reaction to a suggestion is to say no, it's a clue that you should say "Tell me more," instead. Sometimes you're legitimately missing something. This phrase makes you a powerful leader, because you're seeking understanding. You're withholding judgment until you fully appreciate the complexity of the situation, or the multiple facets of an idea.
But even if you're right and the idea isn't a sound one, people still need to feel heard. Saying "tell me more" signals that you're in listening mode. And listening is one of the most critical skills of a great leader.
This is the word to use when you find yourself asking "how" to do something. We often get caught up in the "how," but we don't stop to think "whether" it is the best thing we should be doing. You see a course of action, and you want to execute right away. Step back and look at "whether" you should do it in the first place. Ask why you should carry out the plan. It's easy to get carried away with the excitement of doing something new or different, without clearly understanding what you expect to gain from it. When you've established "whether" a plan aligns with your organization's goals, then you can ask "how."
"What do you think we should do?"
Socrates was on to something when he found a way to teach students, not by giving answers, but by asking them questions. Leaders are sometimes too quick to offer solutions. Next time an employee brings up an issue, respond by asking, "What do you think we should do?" This will help your staff grow, because it empowers them to work things out on their own. Instead of giving them answers, let them flex their problem-solving muscles and strengthen their critical thinking skills. This question also allows you to explore ideas other than yours. It opens up a discussion that may eventually lead to a synergistic solution.
These words and phrases build up people, increase understanding, fan the fire of enthusiasm, and bring out the best in others. Use them every day and you'll become a more powerful leader.