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Words & Tone Do Matter

By September 13, 2022February 8th, 2024No Comments

Remember your favorite teacher, coach, mentor, or advisor who had a large impact? What was it about the conversation that inspired and/or moved you in a positive direction? Now, turn your memories upside down and think about a negative interaction or feedback received. What was different? How did that conversation impact your personality or style?

Next, let’s turn to movies and lines we remember so well and the order of the words. Think of phrases such as Jack Nicolson telling Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth, son.” Or Cuba Gooding Jr. telling Tom Cruise, “Show me da money!” or “My precious” in Lord of the Rings.

We all remember these and many other lines from our favorite movies and books because of the way the words are put together and the tone in which they are delivered. Lillian Lee from Cornell University said in a Wharton, UPenn Edu article that it is the combination of words together that create the memory and ability to quote movie lines. For instance, she said, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” is more memorable than “you’re going to need a boat that is bigger.” (From the movie Jaws).

In business, as in life, words affect how we act and interact with others around us. For years, there have been discussions about the correct way to say things and communicate with the ever-changing society. During the heat of Covid, many companies instilled new methods of measurement, such as Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DEI). An executive leadership role that used to be called Head of Human Resources is now called Chief People Person. ESG, which is Environmental, Social, and Governance, can be found in many companies’ quarterly and annual reports. All of these are ways to help pay attention to the words, tone, and actions we use with those whom we interact with daily.

Our Management Role
As managers, we play a vital role in how our people succeed or fail using language (words) and tone of delivery (the way we say things). Studies have been done for years on how our brain reacts to positive words and tone.

Use Positive Language
In a blog by Daniel Kerr in October 2020, he stated, “Using positive, well thought out and well-intended language is an essential key to developing strong and lasting relationships, and the lens through how we are seen as individuals and as leaders.” In other words, the way we say things and the tone in which we say them gain us more respect from those we are leading. However, this is not something that all know how to do effectively. For example, think back to John F. Kennedy and his famous speech that is quoted to this day in classrooms. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” He delivered this with a positive, yet authoritative tone using positive actionable words.

Develop a Coaching Relationship
As a sales rep, one is taught to formulate strong relationships where a Partner Ally has cultivated and worked for us and with us respectfully. With time, the superstar salesperson is often promoted to a sales manager or leader. The piece that is needed and often missed is some coaching on how to work, interact, and enable the sales team to either continue to be successful or become successful. Rather, what tends to happen is the new sales leader forgets about forming a coaching relationship with the team… similar to how these were formulated with clients. What results in not a coach, but rather an inspector of funnels and pipelines with the use of negative words and an impersonal tone.

Coaching Is About Emotion Too
Studies such as one done by Maria Richter with other scientists found the result of this is added stress and anxiety in people. Perhaps on the team, there is a person that needs a bit of a shot to jump-start things. Why not schedule time with the individual with the given intention of “I want to help you succeed.” Then lead with positive questioning without an opinion being given to help the person have that “ah ha” moment on their own. Coaching in management that leads to positive results is an essential element often overlooked!

Personal Challenge:
Go back to your fond memories that were stirred at the beginning of this article and recall the impact made. How can that be modified for your team to lead to a similar result of respect and collaboration? Try to communicate this way going forward.



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