Culture transformation is warfare, make no mistake. It’s true that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” but our enemies—apathy, complacency, cynicism, resignation, hypocrisy, selfishness, self-righteousness—are far more insidious and tenacious and dangerous than any physical combatant could ever be, for they can hide within and overtake anyone at any time. Considering the stakes of this epic battle, we would be wise to take stock of the tools we have at our disposal, on the front lines and at the top, and put them to good use. And I’m here to tell you that, bar none, the greatest “weapon” we have in this war are our words and our conversations with each other.
Words hold the power to transform our relationships, our results, and our perception and experience of every aspect of our lives, personally and professionally. This power to transform can be used for good or it can be used for ill. Words can act as “weapons of mass destruction” when spoken carelessly or with malice. On the other hand, when spoken with intention and wisdom and benevolence, they can heal and build and invoke greatness in entire organizations or communities. I call these types of words and conversations “weapons of mass transformation.”
I know that every one of us can think of at least a handful of occasions when others, especially those who we considered to be important, used words that made a huge positive or negative impact on our lives. Certainly we can all think of examples of religious leaders, civil rights activists, Presidents and other world leaders using their words, intentionally or not, to profoundly and irrevocably transform the experience of entire peoples, nations, and even the world (and not always in a positive way). If we look a bit more closely at our own lives, we can also trace almost all of our deep-rooted beliefs, and even most of our routine mental chatter, about ourselves and the world to words that were once spoken, whether they were true or not, that were accepted by us as the truth forevermore.
Every one of us holds the power to build or destroy, and yet, we are often oblivious to the destruction we cause with our words and to the opportunities that are right in front of us to intentionally transform our experiences and results and those of others around us. As Susan Scott assures us, "our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time."
The following guidelines are intended to empower you to seize the opportunity that every conversation brings to make a positive difference in the culture and results of your organization and, ultimately, in the lives of the people in it and the impact they have on their families and communities outside of work:
1. Acknowledge and own your power – Recognize that your words matter and they shape the thoughts and actions of others, which in turn result in tangible, physical outcomes, no matter your role in the organization and how insignificant you may perceive your power and authority to be. Acknowledge that every word that you speak has destructive and creative power and take personal responsibility for the outcomes you create.
2. Be intentional about how you want to leave those you are speaking to – Whenever possible, set your intentions on the outcomes you want to create in every conversation. This is not to say you should have a one-track mind and be inflexible in how the conversation flows but be clear on what thoughts and actions you intend to invoke. Remember that, while people don’t always remember everything you say, they do remember how you make them feel when you speak to them. Don’t leave that to chance.
3. Be proactive, not reactive – Once you set your intentions, stay focused and don’t be distracted by the temptation to react to the parts of the conversation that push your buttons. If you have set your intentions properly, you will see that those parts—and your responses to them—are completely irrelevant if your goal is to cause a positive transformation.
4. Watch your body language – The energy you bring, as projected by your demeanor and body language, supersedes and shapes the impact of the words you speak. Make sure your non-verbal communication is consistent with your words and the message you intend to send. The easiest way to do this is by being sincere about the message you are trying to convey, but it also helps to get feedback from a trusted confidante if you are unsure of how you are projecting yourself.
5. Focus on the greater purpose, even when you are discussing short-term issues at hand – Attention to detail is critical, no matter what line of work you are in. However, every problem ought to be discussed and solved in the context of the greater purpose. There are hidden opportunities in every conversation, no matter how insignificant it may seem, to calibrate, teach, learn, and further the cause that the organization is committed to. Identify them and seize the opportunity to take full advantage of them.
6. Ask open-ended questions and then listen! – Remember that communication is often more about seeking to understand than getting your own message across. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, when you are speaking you are at best repeating things you already know, but when you listen you have the opportunity to learn something you didn’t know before. Make it a habit to create a space of open sharing by asking open-ended questions that allow other parties to offer up their opinions and share information that you don’t know that you don’t know! Then, listen! Not just so you can respond, but to truly understand.
7. Have the conversations you have been avoiding – The conversations we know we need to have and have been avoiding hold the power to true transformation. In my book, The Transformative Leader, I outline 5 steps for effectively having the conversations you have been avoiding and for creating extraordinary outcomes by doing so. Whether you use those guidelines or not, make a list of those conversations in private so you can be straight with yourself, and pick one item at a time and give yourself a deadline to cross them off the list.
It’s been said that war never changes, and while that is certainly disheartening in the real world, it at least means that the advice above will never become obsolete. Whether it is tomorrow or years from now or decades in the future, no matter where we are in the world, as long as we exist, the truth will remain that words are one of the most powerful transformative tools we have in our arsenal. And as long as that is true, it will be the duty and responsibility of leaders—and we are all leaders—to be intentional about using our words wisely, skillfully and powerfully for the benefit of the world around us.
For more on this topic, I’d refer you to my previous posts below:
There is also another resource I would recommend you check out at:
About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.
As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!
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