Think Before You Speak

Communication– Visual Courtesy “Dilbert” by Scott Adams

Have you experienced the feeling of utter dread immediately after uttering a very cynical or hurtful statement? In that moment, you wish you could erase the words you said so that the situation that unfolds didn’t occur! Alas, a bullet once fired cannot be recalled back by the gun that fires it.

As a C-level leader it’s so very important to be careful about the words one uses, the tone in which it’s spoken and the impact the words will have.

Why so?

As a leader your team is constantly picking up direction from your verbal and non-verbal cues. What this means is that, inspite of policies and processes being in place, people at work have an un-written behaviour of constantly observing each and every interaction the leader has and interpreting the same their own, individual, ways. This interpretation is not a one-size fit all but is based on the:

  • individuals’ attitude
  • position at work
  • life & work experience

Combined these, three attributes, provides the mental and emotional backdrop of the sociocultural behaviour the employee brings to the table.

Thus, what could be a seemingly innocuous statement uttered in context of the point being debated, can actually be interpreted as offensive and even rude.

In such cases the impact of the spoken statement can have devastating effects in the long-term. In the short-term, it impacts on the credibility, integrity and trust that the leader commands.

People are emotional beings. At work, whether we like that fact or not, we have to accept this. A lot about ‘leadership by heart’ is out in the public domain (here’s one of the best so far, in my opinion). What’s important for organisations today is to acknowledge, accept and use that to increase engagement between employees and the organisational leadership. As the increasing engagement has a direct correlation to both effectivity & profitability.

Let’s come back to our ‘think before you speak’—we know communication, for leaders, is a vital skill. However, the techniques of communication do not tell you what to communicate or, in other words, the content or words that a leader speaks.

As a leader you need to be careful of the words that you use and you need to evaluate the impact those words would have against the outcome you want. A technique I’ve always found helpful is the ‘pause 1..2..3..

This is where you pause for 3 seconds before you speak. How does this help you? It allows the first set of words in your mind to be quickly reviewed and amended. Why do so? So that you can speak honestly and be interpreted in the same manner and get your desired outcome from the statement without your leadership communication skills being put to question.

It’s just a simple exercise in self-restraint and developing the habit of providing clarity. Done on a regular basis across professional and personal life, you will notice the increasing discussions that your colleagues and family will be engaging in with you.