Conversation is fundamental to leadership, and how leaders speak is fundamental to their success. Having productive conversations takes practice and requires dedication. Fortunately for leaders, opportunities are everywhere.
Certain phrases can really help leaders in their interactions, while others can really hinder their efforts. Whether leaders are giving updates during an elevator ride or are addressing a large crowd, here are nine phrases they should consider adding to their vocabulary and nine more than they should make a habit of subtracting.
Phrases to add:
- “I trust your judgment.”
The purpose that underpins this statement is growth. By delegating a decision to a team member, you enable them to stretch themselves and learn not to depend on you for direction.
- “I want to be transparent.”
Using the word “transparent” frames whatever follows with importance, and it also demonstrates your value for your audience. The phrase emphasizes a solution or main point, and it catches the full attention of listeners.
- “I’m curious if . . .”
This is an invitation into your thought process, and it shows humility at the same time. Leaders who remain self-effacing and solicit the thoughts of their associates open the door for collaboration.
- “Can I share a personal example?”
Asking for permission to share something shows respect to the listener, and choosing a personal example can uniquely strengthen a particular point. This phrase, although effective, should be reserved for specific occasions.
- “Can I ask you the same question?”
When an employee or a staffer brings a strong point to the table, asking them the same question recognizes the thought they have likely already put into the issue. By listening, you can gain additional insight that can inform action.
- “Let me show you what I’ve found.”
This phrase creates evidence of your commitment to a certain issue, and it lets team members have a better idea of how you operate. Looking at research together will help you make a stronger point.
- “I think we should try your idea.”
Leaders should never assume that they have to come up with all the ideas. When a partner has an attractive approach to a problem, go with it and invest in the implementation like you would for your own plans.
- “Here’s the direction we’re headed.”
Strong leaders use this phrase when they plan on also filling in the blanks. By outlining the role everyone will play in the process, you strengthen the initial vision statement and equip the team with an action plan.
- “I need to think on that more before I give an answer.”
This phrase shows that while you may not have a ready answer, you believe the request deserves some thought. By not dismissing the point in the moment, you convey that you feel the item is important.
Phrases to subtract:
- “I don’t have the time.”
The vocabulary of an effective leader should demonstrate her or his connection to the cause, and this phrase accomplishes the exact opposite. Positive alternatives include “I’ll make time” or “Let’s find a time.”
- “I can’t.”
This phrase is closely related to the previous one, but it may have an even greater negative impact. Though you may fear looking weak, asking for advice or suggestions can actually help team members maintain their belief in you as their leader.
- “We always do things that way.”
Leaders who utter this phrase essentially cut out a possibility for innovation. Willingness to try something new, even if previous models have worked well, reveals that improvement is a priority.
- “Let’s wait on that one.”
One way that leaders improve their value is by not waiting for perfect timing. Any project, no matter how great its potential, will require adaptation and flexibility to succeed.
- “You don’t understand.”
Saying this phrase to someone closes a lot of doors. Even if the person does not get your point, spend the time rephrasing and offering clarification so that everyone can move forward together.
- “Because I said so.”
This line has a negative effect in any setting because it discredits the person asking the “why” question. Discontinue this kind of communication to avoid hurting employee engagement and team spirit.
- “I’m in charge.”
Saying this reveals a lot about you as a leader, such as the fact that you might not actually be one. Instead of verbally claiming authority, leaders should focus on organizing and encouraging their team.
- “I don’t care.”
This statement shows your indifference and lack of motivation, which are surefire morale killers. Leaders will have a better chance of success the more they communicate their interest and commitment. Alternates in these situations might include a variation of “Both options work well.”
- “It’s business, not personal.”
Leaders tend to only say this phrase when, in fact, it is personal. Relationships need nurturing in any enterprise, and strong leaders find ways to genuinely engage with their team members while promoting business.