The Power of Language. Converting Failure into Success

Language, in its most basic sense, is our primary method of communication. Yet, its power stretches far beyond just communicating basic needs or ideas. It can influence our perception of reality, shape our relationships, and determine the success or failure of our personal and professional endeavors.

Choosing Your Words – Why It Matters More Than Ever

In the digital age, where most of our interactions are increasingly happening behind screens, the words we choose to use matter more than ever. When face-to-face nonverbal cues are absent, each word carries a heavier weight, potentially making or breaking relationships, deals, or even an entire business.

To further complicate matters, political correctness has heightened society’s sensitivity to language. It’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s an evolution of language that reflects a more inclusive and respectful society. And with that, comes a responsibility to evolve our language alongside it.

Remember, it’s not just about avoiding offense. It’s about showing respect and acknowledging the individuality of others. That’s why terms that were acceptable in the past, like “oriental” or “negro,” have evolved to “Asian American” and “African American,” respectively. The words we use can either isolate or include, demean or empower. The choice is ours to make.

The Power of Pronouns

Now, let’s take a moment to explore how words can shape the dynamics of an organization.

When managing a company, the use of pronouns can signal the difference between a disconnected leader and an inclusive one. When a leader consistently uses “I” and “my,” they risk creating an environment of exclusion and hierarchy. On the other hand, leaders who favor “we,” “our,” and “team” foster a sense of unity, belonging, and shared commitment.

This might sound like a trivial detail, but consider the profound impact it can have on a team’s spirit and productivity. After all, the word “team” stands for “Together Everyone Achieves More.” This simple acronym highlights the essence of teamwork: a collective effort towards a common goal.

The Impact of Attitude

To illustrate this further, let’s consider the contrasting attitudes of two renowned baseball players: Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter, a shortstop, is remembered for his dedication to the team, often sacrificing his own safety to make a play. Rodriguez, on the other hand, is often portrayed as being more focused on his personal statistics than the team’s success.

The difference in their attitudes reflects in their language and actions. While one was clearly a “we” person, prioritizing team success above all else, the other leaned towards “I,” focusing more on personal achievements.

This is not to vilify Rodriguez or canonize Jeter, but rather to highlight the different outcomes that can stem from our attitudes and the language that reflects them. It serves as a reminder that to be truly successful, we must be willing to put the team ahead of ourselves.

Intentions Matter

While it’s essential to choose our words wisely, we are all human and bound to make mistakes. We come from diverse backgrounds, with varying levels of understanding and sensitivity to the nuances of language. What’s important is the intention behind our words.

Are we using language to uplift, encourage, and include? Or are we using it to belittle, exclude, and assert dominance? People can sense the intention behind our words, and it is this intention that ultimately shapes their perception of us.

At the end of the day, language is a powerful tool. It can foster unity or sow division, ignite passion or incite anger, lead to success or trigger failure. So, whether you’re typing an email to a colleague, giving a speech to your team, or just chatting with a friend, remember the power of your words. Choose them wisely, with the understanding that they can profoundly affect the world around you.

After all, if we choose the right words, we can turn failure into success, one conversation at a time.

Further reading

Stevens, K. N., & Blumstein, S. E. (1975). “The search for invariant acoustic correlates of phonetic features.” In Fant, Gunnar (Ed.), Vocal Physiology: Voice Production, Mechanisms, and Functions (pp. 1-18). University of Michigan Press.Link

Pennebaker, J. W., & Chung, C. K. (2007). “Expressive writing, emotional upheavals, and health.” In Friedman, Howard S. (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology (pp. 417-437). Oxford University Press. Link

Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). “Redesigning work design theories: The rise of relational and proactive perspectives.” Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 317-375. doi:10.1080/19416520903047327

Salas, E., & Cannon-Bowers, J. A. (2001). “The science of training: A decade of progress.” Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 471-499. Link