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When we’re children, we learn how to speak by listening to the conversations around us.  At first, our brains struggle with the new learning, but then we become fluent, and we don’t spend much time thinking about it.  But when we’re dealing with unexpected challenges in a volatile business climate, we need to pay close attention to what we say and how we say it.  It could be the deciding factor in our ultimate success.

Let’s say your company’s revenue projections indicate that your sales team may miss their targets, but, in spite of the pandemic, your toughest competitor has had a wildly successful year.  You have a game-changing product in development, but you’ve just heard it will miss its go-live date by 6 months.  You’re preparing to speak to your employees, and to ask for their commitment to step up to the tough challenges ahead.  What you may not realize is that the words you use will determine the success or failure of this meeting.  Let’s look at two different approaches and see which might bring us a more positive outcome.

Option 1. “I’ve called you all together because we’re facing a major disaster.   Our new product launch is 6 months late, and the market window is closing.  The competition has taken a big chunk of our market share and our sales team is struggling to meet quota.  Our only hope is for you to do everything in your power to turn things around.  It will mean longer hours and less time with your families, but we need you to perform a miracle to keep us from going out of business.  It’s going to be a really hard year.” 

So…do you feel motivated?  Or are you more likely to wonder if it’s time to look for a new job?   The use of negative language often leaves us feeling that things are hopeless.  We think we can scare people into doing a better job, but we are more likely to discourage them.   Continued flogging rarely improves morale!

Option 2. “We’ve met our share of obstacles over the years and we’ve learned how to pull together to keep the company growing.  Now we’re facing our toughest challenge yet.  As you know, our revenue is not meeting expectations, our latest product is slipping its release date, and competition remains relentless.   I’ve asked the management team to prepare a recovery strategy that will take us where we want to go.  We’ll need to work hard, but I know this team can come back stronger than ever.  I’m looking forward to working with you to bring us the success we deserve.”

Can you feel the different energy this message generates?  You’ve described the exact same situation, and been honest about the challenges ahead, but you’ve used the language of possibility and rallied your team to believe the task is achievable.

It’s vitally important for us to think carefully about the words we use, as they have the power to create the reality of our experience. Communicating our circumstances in positive, motivating language will provide us with the greatest opportunity for a successful outcome.