Accelerating the Advancement of Women Leaders 


July 2, 2019

Language that makes the cut
Sitting in the stands cheering your favorite sports team can make you feel like part of the action. You yell, clap, wear your lucky T-shirt and hope for the ‘W’. But you aren’t actually contributing to the win or loss. The language you use at work can have the same effect, relegating you to the stands rather than putting you on the court.  
“If you’re speaking the language of a person in the stands, you are focusing on your circle of concern,” explains Amir Ghannad, founder of The Ghannad Group consultants on culture transformation. “The thought process is one of seeing your success as determined by the people actually on the court playing the game. If you see yourself as someone in the game, on the court, you take responsibility,” he says.
Although no one (not even the CEO) has total control, looking for ways you can make a difference empowers you to increase your personal contribution. “Speaking the language of an observer diminishes our power and inhibits us from looking for the elements we can control,” Ghannad says.
Language drives culture
Language is one of the greatest indicators and influencers of organizational culture, breeding positivity or negativity, according to Ghannad. “Thoughts become words and words become actions and then habits that ultimately shape the character of a person and the culture and impact of an organization,” he asserts.
He suggests listening to your language very intentionally to determine if you tend to speak from a powerless position simply complaining about those on the court, or if you use language that takes responsibility for making things happen and winning the game. Start with these questions:

  • Am I venting in the moment to release tension, or has this become my go-to conversation?
  • Do I complain more often than I offer solutions?
  • Is my language direct enough that others understand my ideas and take them seriously?
  • Am I so narrowly focused on my own concerns that I cannot see the larger implication for the company as a whole?
  • ​Do I shoot my own ideas down before I even verbalize them?
Focus in
Ghannad suggests picking one area of your career or one project and intentionally monitoring your language on that topic. “Changing your language transforms your thinking, how others perceive you and what you see as possible,” he says. He recommends having accountability partners who point out times when your language shows you are stuck in the bleachers.
Forbes Magazine recently published a list of 15 “verbal qualifiers” or phrases that make leaders look weak. They include expressions that tend to negate what you are saying or avoid taking a verbal stand. Words such as “almost, sort of, maybe, probably, kind of and just.” As in “I just called to . . . ” or “I sort of have an idea on that.” Or, “Maybe we should consider . . .”
Give your language more muscle and get yourself off the bench and onto the court . . . field . . . ice . . . or stadium!

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