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Words are powerful vessels. They can inspire or destroy. And once, spoken they are impossible to retrieve.

Each of us, in our daily lives has the ability to make an impact. We can snarl at the barista, or we can smile. We can be callous to the mother struggling to get on the train with a pram, or we can be kind. We can shout and swear at other drivers on the road, or we can show calm and patience.

The way we act can make someone’s day, or break it, and once we realise we hold that power, the only responsible thing to do, is to use it wisely.

Communicating when you are a leader

Leaders in particular, have a responsibility to speak carefully and considerately.

As someone who has responsibility for managing other’s performance in the workplace, it’s important to ask yourself:

  • Do I have useful conversations that inspire people to be better people?
  • Does my communication result in team members succeeding at their jobs?
  • Would I think I am approachable if I was in the other person’s position?

Some of the most important responsibilities of a leader are:

  • Evaluating employee performance
  • Providing honest feedback
  • Clarifying what others have done well
  • Communicating feedback on what areas need improvement

As John Maxwell says: “An effective leader can describe what good performance looks like.”

The Power of Words

Most of us would rather have a root canal than discuss feedback about poor performance with a team member, especially when it relates to a behaviour-based issue. Yet we eagerly talk to (complain) about these issues to colleagues, friends, or family.

So, what stops us from providing feedback to the employee?

Basically, one simple thing: It’s not easy to have hard conversations.

Many of us don’t actually believe that we are capable of having the tough discussions without killing ongoing communication, or upsetting the other person. We are all perfectly capable. It’s just a matter of how we go about it.

It goes without saying that a good leader must have great communication skills. But this doesn’t just relate to what you say, but how you say it.

Having hard conversations

In any difficult conversation it’s important to speak from the heart. It’s important to remain in your own truth, but open your boundaries, resist judgment until you hear the other person’s point of view, and be gentle with your choice of language. Conflict never helps.

Ways to speak from the heart:

  • Avoid blame – shift the focus when it comes up in conversation.
  • Approach the talk with empathy and an open mind, be non-threatening.
  • Be honest, but compassionate. Stand firm, but be fair.
  • Ask what’s required to improve the situation or move forward.
  • Listen to understand, not just to ‘hear’.
  • Be positive, and motivate with encouragement and praise.

Often it helps to plan ahead, jot a few notes of things you want to discuss – think about the best way to reframe them so you can still convey the message, but in a different, more uplifting way.

If you inspire people they will do more and become more…

But it’s also important to remember that sometimes it’s hearing what we don’t want to hear can be game changing, life changing for us as individuals. So don’t shy away from the ‘Tough Love’ conversations either, although it’s likely – especially if the person you’re talking too is not open to hearing the feedback or ready to embrace change – that there will be fallout for your relationship.

It’s also possible that the impact or the outcome of this conversation might not be evident until years later, so it’s important not to feel failure if this is the case. People evolve at their own pace. If you put your hand on your heart and speak with sincerity and compassion your words will have the right power, when the time is right.