Entrepreneurs Need to Count Their Words to Make Their Words Count
Ever tweet something you regret?
Ever say something you wish you hadn’t?
Ever ramble aimlessly losing your point and your audience?
Ever think of the perfect response… six hours too late?
Words can incite defiance or allegiance, cause people to resist or embrace your ideas, accept or reject your apology, or even believe in your compelling vision for the future or fear it.
What we say matters. In our 90-mile-an-hour world where words fly back and forth, many of us dismiss misspeaks, use 50,000 words when 25 will do, attempt to condense a complex scenario into 140 characters or less, or say something boneheaded without realizing just how asinine or insulting the comment was to the recipient. And if it’s pointed out to us, we typically shrug it off, and say, “Whatever. You know what I meant.”
Um, no. We didn’t. Because the words you spoke were careless, or inarticulate, or you were lazy, not thinking it through or experiencing diarrhea of the mouth.
Successful business leaders know that less is more, and this includes word count. Blaise Pascal and Mark Twain are both credited with saying, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Refining a message, selecting just the right word for the right effect, takes time and energy. New business development phone calls, investor presentations, hiring interviews, brand campaigns, performance reviews and strategic planning sessions -- just to name a few instances -- are all significantly influenced by the words we use. Are we stopping the bleeding or sustaining what’s working? Are we mediocre team players or do we need to better leverage our strengths? Are we drowning, in over our heads, or is that just hyperbole for we’re a bit cash strapped this quarter? And the shorter your speech (or diatribe), the better.
How succinct and clear are your words? When you write, is it a breeze to read or a chore to struggle through? When you speak, do I get hooked quickly or do I swim against the tide, drowning in your sea of prosaic prattle?
Words influence thoughts. Thoughts influence behaviors. Behaviors influence results.
Words frame perceptions and influence reactions. They can be inflammatory or calming. Start a dialogue with "why did you do that," and the individual will feel defensive and respond accordingly. Ask "what led to this decision," and that same person will seek to elucidate and educate. Different words. Different reaction. Better outcome. The phrase, "I just don’t get it," is laden with judgment, whereas, "help me understand" serves as an invitation to connect. "Wow, you lost weight" may cause someone to feel self-conscious. "You look fabulous" simply serves as compliment.
Closing a conversation purposefully can lead to a signed contract instead of a warm lead going cold, can be the difference between a frustrated customer walking away or sending you a thank you note or an employee rebelling further instead of getting aligned with you. "Thanks for your time, talk soon" is a habitual phrase entrepreneurs use to end a prospecting call, but it also typically truncates future conversations. It’s boring, like the wanh, wanh, wanh of the Peanuts characters’ parents and teachers. The cartoon kids tune out these voices as do we. Less lazy lines:
- Look forward to talking further about reducing your costs by 6 percent;
- I’ll send you a proposal that shows exactly how we’ll increase your sales by 12 percent;
- I’ll have Amanda reach out to you as soon as possible. She knows exactly how to fix that machine so you can get back to cranking out those widgets and running efficiently;
- I hear your concerns, Sam. They’re valid. I appreciate your candor, and I need your support behind this decision. Your skills and expertise will influence our success. I need your buy-in.
These examples are specific, thoughtfully worded remarks designed to yield more favorable results than bad-habit, blasé phrases or dictatorial tirades.
The next time a critical conversation is on the horizon frame your messaging, craft your questions, and carefully consider your words. Words count. Count wisely.