Why Leaders Should Listen To Their Words



When you give feedback to others or share your concerns about an idea or a suggestion, do you think about how your message is coming across? Do you try to put yourself in the place of the person receiving your comments or do you just say what you have to say? As a communication enthusiast and leadership development trainer, I am always aware of language.  I listen carefully to what people say in their choice of both their words and the way they are being transmitted. My ears perk up when I hear information being shared in a tactless way, knowing that the speaker may be unaware of how they sound.

 In a recent interview in the NY Times, Adam Bryant spoke with Francisco D’Souza, chief executive of Cognizant, about dealing with his frontline managers. It never occurred to D’Souza how his message was being transmitted until others shared with him how harshly he sounded. He suddenly realized how words matter:

 “It made me understand that the weight of my words was a lot heavier than I gave myself credit for, and it led me to be much more thoughtful and measured in how I give feedback.”

 Here are four ways to becoming a more self-aware communicator: 

1.  Ask others how we come across: The best way to find out how our messages are being received or understood is to request feedback from those around us at work, in our volunteer positions and in our personal lives. We could either have a face- to- face conversation or use a written 360 feedback survey. But which ever we choose, take the time to see how our words are being recognized.


2.  Become an assertive communicator: When we speak in an open, direct and clear way, while still being respectful of the other person’s point of view, we are communicating in an assertive way. We avoid swinging between passive and aggressive communication, while still sharing our needs. It’s the most honest and positive way to communicate.

3.  Create authentic rapport with others: In order to be strong and clear communicators, we need to reach out to people in a meaningful way. It is always helpful to understand what makes them tick and what they value because then we can deepen the connections with them.  Ask others what energizes and excites them and see what you may have in common.

 4.  Be flexible and welcome differences in opinion: When we roll out our messages and ideas, not everyone on our team might agree with us. Some people may offer different perspectives and suggestions. Instead of judging, take the time to review the pros and cons of the ideas. Maybe there are pieces that can be integrated to produce an even better outcome. The self-aware communicator knows that their idea can always use some interesting additions.

 Our words matter and can impact the way our messages are received. Leaders who are self-aware communicators welcome feedback and input from others. Are you a leader who is a self-aware communicator? How else do you honor your words?


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5 thoughts on “Why Leaders Should Listen To Their Words

  1. Terri – It’s often so hard for leaders to ask others for feedback. It feels risky because it’s personal. It’s truly a sign of a leader that cares about people and the impact of their words just knowing that they’ve asked and want to get even stronger. There is always a risk of falling into old habits too and that’s when trusted advisors can tap the leader on the shoulder to share…. you may not realize how that just came across…

    Leadership is experienced through our communication and interaction. So critical! Thanks for the great ideas here!

  2. Terri, you’ve written an important post about the importance of our words. And so many times, we’re unaware of how our words sound to others! I had no idea of my tone until I heard myself during a radio interview…I was shocked, and embarrassed! I sounded defensive and aloof, and mainly due to voice inflection. I learned my lesson and started recording myself and playing it back. It can really make a huge difference!

  3. You are so right Alli that feedback can be uncomfortable for leaders, especially when they aren’t feeling confident about their leadership. The key is to just be open about the information and empower yourself to put the feedback to good use. Not to dwell on it, but rather learn from it.

    A leader’s communication is the vehicle that other’s respond to, so it is important to recognize how we are coming across and adjust the words and non-verbals if we need to.

    Thanks for your terrific comments!

  4. I love how open to change and feedback you are, LaRae! That is the mark of a true leader and professional. We don’t always know how others see and hear us, so we need to reach out to others for input.

    Words are powerful as are our non-verbals, like tone and voice inflection. If the goal is to create rapport and connect with others to be influential, we should seize all the feedback we can.

    Thanks for your great points!

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