Choice Words (#211)

Something I have learned, both as a parent and in my own leadership journey, is the importance of the words we use, especially when we give praise or critical feedback.

When we critique, the inclination often is to attack the recipient personally, rather than address the problematic behavior they are exhibiting.

For example, I have encountered many managers who may think a team member is not a strong strategic thinker. The common approach is to tell the person that they “need to be more strategic,” which is rarely received well. This approach makes the person think their personality is being criticized, rather than their actions.

A more effective strategy is to discuss the specific outcome in question. In the case above, a manager might review an example of a project deliverable that was too tactical and show how the employee could have been more strategic in their assessment.

While subtle, there’s a significant difference between telling someone they are “not strategic,” versus telling them they are not demonstrating the strategic thinking the work requires. While many of us believe our character traits are fixed, it is easier for us to commit to changing our behavior.

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