We've all witnessed the problems that can arise when important people can't get their points across or have issues speaking with each other. But when you're in a leadership position, not only do you need to show other leaders you're capable, you need to be certain your subordinates understand you as well.
One sure way of making people feel you're capable of leading them is by speaking in an assertive, strong, yet connecting manner. But knowing how to do this doesn't always come naturally to people.
"Sometimes, in this smaller picture that is day-to-day living, we have a hard time expressing ourselves appropriately to others," says etiquette coach Barbara Pachter in her new book, The Power of Positive Confrontation. "We don't know what to say or how to say it. We don't know how other people will react if we tell them how we really feel. Communicating successfully with others in uncomfortable situations is especially difficult."
But while it may be difficult, it's a skill business owners need to learn to do well, or you'll find that others will begin to question your leadership abilities.
Below, Pachter lays out the five common language pitfalls that business leaders should never fall into:
1. Use Self-Discounting Language
"Self-discounting words or phrases can diminish your positive words and undermine your intent to be powerful," Pachter says. "If you discount your words, it's easy for the other person to do so, too."
Some of the most common self-discounting, or wishy-washy, words and phrases include I think, I hope, maybe, kinda, sorta, perhaps. If you say, "I hope this information will be helpful for you," then you're implying that you don't believe the information will be helpful. If this is the case, why should anyone listen to you or take your advice?
Pachter suggests you drop "I think" from your vocabulary altogether. If you know something, why would you say you only think you know it?
2. Constantly Apologize
If you're saying "I'm sorry" for things that aren't your fault, it's time to stop. According to Pachter, you should never use the words "I'm sorry" unless 1) you mean it, or 2) it's your responsibility and you have something to be sorry for.
3. Use Filler Words
"The use of an infrequent 'OK' or 'all right' is usually not noticed," Pachter says. "But any word or phrase used repeatedly to fill a pause is distracting to the listener. People begin paying more attention to the filler words than to the content of what the speaker is saying."
The bottom line is, if people start to mentally count the number of your "OKs" or "uhs," it's no longer OK to be using those words, she says. Continuing to do so will just make people think you're nervous or unsure of yourself.
4. Make "You" Instead of "I" Statements
This is especially important when you're having a difficult conversation with someone. If you're trying to offer constructive criticism to an employee, you should never use phrasing or negative words that make the other person feel attacked. For example, instead of saying, "You're wrong," say, "I disagree." Or instead of saying, "You're always late," say, "I need you to be on time."
Never use absolutes, such as, "You never get to my meetings on time." Instead, when confronting someone, be extremely specific about the behavior you want that person to change and make sure to link the behavior to an incident that actually occurred. For example, you might say, “Yesterday, you arrived 20 minutes late to my staff meeting, and it was disruptive."
When dealing with conflicts and difficult conversations, remember this simple "WAC" model:
- What's really bothering you? Define the problem.
- Ask yourself what you want to ask the other person to do or change. Define for them exactly what would solve the problem for you.
- Check in. You've asked the other person to change something about his or her behavior. What does the person think about it? You need to check in with them and find out.
5. Not Have a Steady, Calm and Audible Voice
"If you're going to get your point across, the other person must be able to hear you," Pachter says. "Sometimes, if you're not being listened to, it may be because the other person is a legitimate jerk. But sometimes it's because your voice is easy to not listen to—it's too soft, too fast or too loud."
As a leader, you need to practice having a strong, steady, reassuring voice, or others may size you up as too weak or soft to lead them.
While learning how to speak properly and effectively should be high on everyone's agenda, the consequences of not knowing how to speak properly when you're in a leadership position can be disastrous. The first step to becoming a better—and more respected—communicator is to learn the vital verbal skills that can make or break a conversation and then either eliminate or incorporate them in your own speaking habits.
Read more articles on leadership.
Photo: Getty Images