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Legatus Magazine

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Dave Durand | author
Jul 01, 2011
Filed under Ethics

Finding the right words

Dave Durand writes that if you use all the right words but you lack the discipline to say things the right way, the words will not work. Leaders who see their work as a vocation rather than a career have a distinct advantage in this regard. Once you embrace the objective to inspire others and to be humble, the Holy Spirit will provide the words . . .

Dave Durand

Leadership effectiveness is filled with paradoxes. One such paradox is the question of what carries the most weight in communications: the words leaders choose or the messages they send (apart from their words).

You may be familiar with Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s famous study that determined words only represent 7% of the message we send when communicating. According to the study, 55% of the message we send to others is communicated via our physiology, while voice quality makes up the remaining 38%. So is it a waste of time to discuss the importance of words? Not at all. As anyone in leadership will tell you, the right choice of words is central to communicating a well-received message, thus the paradox.

Communicating is like financial management. It could be said that 93% of success, when it comes to building wealth, is based on discipline. For the purpose of this analogy, you could say that the discipline of controlling spending would hold the weight that physiology holds in communicating, while earning potential (also a type of discipline) would be equivalent to voice quality. These two financial basics are what enable an investor to pursue the intellectual side of finances such as investment strategy. You may be the smartest person in the room when it comes to investment strategies, but if you lack discipline, your knowledge is useless. However, if you have discipline, then you have the privilege of allowing your financial knowledge to yield a great return.

In the same light, when it comes to communicating, if you use all the right words but you lack the discipline to say things the right way with the correct emotional energy, then the words will not work. The right words are crucial once everything else is in place. Another way of looking at it is that choosing the right investments, like choosing the right words, won’t matter much until the basics of investing and communicating are in place. However, once they are in place, the words, like the proper investments, make all the difference and separate the wealthy from the poor — and the profound from the confused.

So, what are the right words? Are there any standards for communicating the right words that can be universally used? Thankfully, there are a few simple principles to help you make the right choice of words.

One of those principles is quite familiar to Legates because it’s fundamental to our faith — the Golden Rule. The bedrock of treating others as we desire to be treated creates the foundation for finding the right words. We all want to feel respected and secure, so choosing words that make others feel that way is best. That means avoiding derogatory terms or unnecessary criticism. When you use words that inspire others, you will generally be communicating with an inspired person. On the other hand, when you tear others down, you will be communicating with either a defensive person or an insecure person. When people are insecure or defensive, they’re not at their best. So, when possible use words that inspire confidence.

Another communication paradox is illustrated by George Burns’ quip, “The key to acting is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you have it made.” Many leadership consultants tout the importance of authenticity when it comes to communicating. While I believe authenticity is essential for excellent leadership, there are far too many examples of phony leaders who, in the short term, are such talented communicators that they fool their followers with style and articulation. It’s interesting that a talent or “skill” such as communicating can be so powerful that it covers the lack of virtue in incompetent or insincere leaders.

Sophisticated followers are usually able to recognize phony leadership. This  means that insincere leaders generally attract followers they can easily manipulate or control. The best way to attract strong people to your cause is to be truly authentic and then to present yourself with words that are humble and even at times self-deprecating.

Leaders who see their work as a vocation rather than a career have a distinct advantage in this realm because they see their gifts as a glorification of God and not of self. That’s why they have an easier time avoiding words such as “I” and “me” followed by taking credit. Instead, they use words like “they,” “he,” “she” or, if necessary, “we” and “us.” Ironically, words that communicate humility attract the very thing that most people try to attract by using arrogant or egocentric words. Strong people are attracted to strong people. Bullies and weaklings are attracted to bullies and weaklings. So communicate a message of strength by admitting appropriate flaws and by showering praise upon the people who deserve it.

Once you have embraced the objective to inspire others, to be humble in the way you present yourself, to be honest, and to live in virtue, then the words will come to you. Remember also that you need to be divinely inspired. Call upon the Holy Spirit, and God will give you the words you need at the right time.

Dave Durand is the best-selling author of “Perpetual Motivation” and “Win the World Without Losing Your Soul.” He is a business executive and trainer of well over 100,000 individuals in sales, marketing and business management.


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