What Do You Mean?

I saw a video recently of a young woman who had been admonished by an older man to remove her hat indoors. When she asked him why, he said it was a matter of respect. When she pressed him to explain what he meant, he couldn't explain it other to repeat the word "respect."

It got me thinking about word usage and its impact on people. PS you can't define the word using the same word.

Bosses, please use words that mean something. I had a client whose supervisor said, "We all need to be accountable" on the regular, but when someone finally asked what he meant, the supervisor simply repeated that accountability was key. Huh. Cleared that right up.

I see it happen when leaders attempt to define good performance. They'll say they want excellence but they don't say what that looks like. When there's a dispute over whether or not excellence was delivered, sometimes what the leader really wanted will be revealed, but by then it's too late. 

We live in a world full of buzzwords and business is full of them. Plain language seems to have been overpowered by the latest buzz, the new framework, the important sounding acronym. If people don't know what you're talking about, they'll likely walk away without asking, especially if they work in an organization where people are criticized for not already knowing. People do not want to look stupid.

One of my clients recently asked a question about a term being used in a cross-functional team meeting. She asked later, privately, and the person explained it and came across quite friendly and open. But then, the explainer complained to her boss about being asked! That boss went to the other boss and complained about it. My client was called into a meeting and told there was a complaint about her asking the &^%$#@* question. Puh-lease.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let me close with this: Words matter. When you're in a leadership position, your words can make or break a working relationship, can make the difference between great performance or a failure, and definitely affect morale. I'm not talking about everyone being blissful at work - I'm talking about people feeling that their efforts make a difference, that their time spent at work has meaning, that they are being treated with positive regard ... well, you know, with respect.


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