The Single Most Powerful Word in a Leader’s Vocabulary

Much has been written about communication, especially leadership communication. There are tips on how to listen more, there are best practices around having difficult conversations…there is no shortage of suggestions on how to use verbal and body language to be more effective.

Yet I’ve found that one word has more power, more leverage, than any other. One word can help leaders not only become more effective but also shift their mindset towards one of inclusivity and innovation. That word is AND. It’s one of the most used, simple three letter words out there—yet, in the right context, it’s magical.

Imagine the sentences: “You are excellent in small group scenarios but your presence diminishes in large groups.” And “I hear your point but I don’t agree with you.” It’s been proven, in fact, that whatever follows the “but” is taken in far greater consideration than what precedes it. Whatever is said in the beginning of the sentence becomes almost inaudible to the receiver. Now imagine changing the “but” for an “and” and see what happens. The binary nature of the phrases shifts (the either/or aspect) and now both contradicting sides co-exist. It’s more real, it’s more inclusive, and it’s more solution oriented.

The world, after all, is rarely binary; it’s complex, dirty, and filled with co-existing tensions. It’s those leaders who can surface and manage those tensions successfully who can be most effective in inspiring action in others.

How many times have you heard someone say, “But I told them they were good at x, and they just didn’t hear it” or “I didn’t mean to come across as single-minded, but I just didn’t agree”? Sometimes we fail to grasp the power of our language and its impact on others.

It’s amazing how one word can make such a difference. “I hear the points you’re making and I’m not on the same page.” “You bring up some fantastic ideas and we are running out of time during this meeting.” The “and” is an acknowledgment of and opening for the need to reconcile tensions and problem solve.

So here’s a bit of homework, should you choose to take on the challenge. For the next 24 hours, listen for the times when you’re looking to pivot in a conversation. Using “but” is a great cue. If you can catch yourself, swap it for an “and.” See how different it feels coming out of your mouth and watch for the impact it has on your team and colleagues.

I’d love to hear how it goes!


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