One of my favorite leadership authors is John Maxwell and I have followed him for more than two decades. His advice and insight is logical, ethical and always timely. In a recent article he spoke about communication and the impact that it not only has one you but how it impacts those around you. The first thing one needs to establish is connection with the other person. Once a positive connection is established it will increase your influence and trustworthiness.
From the old playground saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”, I could not disagree more. Words DO hurt and whether or not you agree with me, HOW you say those words and the tone with which you speak those words DO matter.
I, however, have one more word that I would like suggest can be toxic, the word is ‘should’. It is an easy word to misinterpret and one that suggests that your experience is the same as my understanding and experience. When I hear this word in conversations, I get goosebumps because for me it means that the person speaking is not really listening to the others in the group.
Comments that are common include:
- “Everyone knows that”
- “They should know better than that”
- “Shouldn’t everyone know that ….”
As someone who has been in the training, customer service, team development and leadership field for more than thirty years I have had this discussion more times than I care to remember. It usually begins this way:
Me: “The customer is always right”.
Student: “No they aren’t, they did not do IT the way they were supposed to”, or, “they did not read the directions correctly”, or, “they did not follow the procedure like they were supposed to.” (put whatever challenge you want in place of the ones I used here, but it all means that they did something wrong and you are right)
Here are some things you might consider before you judge someone else:
- What is their background?
- Have they had the same sort of upbringing as you?
- Do they have the same experiences as you have had?
- If they have never been exposed to ……. Why ‘should’ they know what to do?
- When you read instructions, directions, etc. do we all walk away with the same interpretations of the same document?
When we place ourselves in a position of authority, it is important to take into account the other person and to understand how they came to that particular interpretation. To say that someone ‘should’ feel a certain way takes away two important feelings – empathy and understanding. There is something important in the following statement, “first we need to understand” in order to respond respectfully and appropriately.
So, the next time you are tempted to use the word ‘should’, think before you speak and make sure not to forget that words, and the way we use them, do hurt. The impact of your words can also affect how others respect and listen to our opinions.
In conclusion, and in the words of John Maxwell, “Imagine possessing the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them. Effective communication skills can be learned and will build your influence greatly”. So, I will end this article with this thought, “you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar”. Have a blessed day.