If a global pandemic taught us anything, it’s that our time in this world can be cut short in an instant, so we should make the most of it while we can.
This realization has caused many to reevaluate where they’re going professionally and map out how they’d like to make their mark. Their legacies as leaders and how and whom they impact include big dreams and aspirational goals, which they’re pursuing with a newfound zeal.
While I applaud these forward thinkers, I’d like to suggest that they augment their strategies by applying a less lofty but highly impactful action they may have overlooked: being mindful of the legacy of their words.
I often say that words have power. They can inspire or harm, propel us forward or hold us back. They have the power to support, uplift, and unify, or destroy, denigrate, or divide.
It turns our words also have staying power. Scientific studies show that positive and negative words not only affect us on a deep psychological level, but they have a significant impact on the outcome of our lives and the lives of others.
Words matter, so paying attention to which you use and how you use them makes sense. Here’s how to be more mindful of the legacy of your words:
Lead with positivity
As my grandmother used to say, “You’ll attract more flies with honey than vinegar.”
You’re perceived as more likable, supportive, and caring when you use positive language. In contrast, using negative language paints you as critical and confrontational, even when that’s not your intent. Positive language lets someone know what you can do instead of what you can’t do.
According to studies, positive statements are more quickly received and well-received by the audience. In addition, research shows that using positive language is a highly efficient tool for being happier and more productive.
Embrace the power of the pause
Emotionally intelligent people understand the power of taking a beat to digest and consider the information before responding to it. Not every thought should be voiced immediately (or maybe, ever), especially in an emotionally charged situation. When you give yourself a moment to pause, you prevent saying something you’ll later regret.
Try counting to ten in your head or even taking a short walk so you can gain clarity and calmly decide how to proceed. Or adopt a trick from comedian Craig Ferguson, and get into the habit of asking yourself these three questions before speaking:
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said by me?
- Does this need to be said by me now?
When you have a greater awareness of the timing and impact of your words, you can use the power of the pause to determine when (and whether) you should speak.
Praise in public, critique in private
It’s the best feeling in the world to receive public kudos for a job well done. Contrast that with the embarrassment, shame, and anger that you’d feel when on the receiving end of a public admonishing. Feedback is much more meaningful when we remember praising in public and critiquing in private.
Say what you mean and mean what you say
Have you ever had a meeting with someone and walked away, not sure where they stood? Or maybe someone stated their stance but seemed to contradict themselves at every turn?
Clarity is crucial for effective communication, yet even when we think we’re clear, our incongruent actions can suggest otherwise. This leaves others confused. And when you confuse people, you’ll lose people. So mean what you say and say what you mean, and be sure to ask others if they understand and have any questions. Doing so ensures that you’ll leave a legacy of a trusted straight-shooter upon which others can depend.
Incorporate a regular practice of external gratitude
Taking just a few moments to recognize and thank others is one small way to use your words for good and promote a positive legacy. But you needn’t restrict that practice to special events; research suggests that we should incorporate gratitude into our lives regularly for maximum benefit. Science tells us that there are many benefits of gratitude:
- A greater sense of well-being
- Improved sleep, optimism, and physical health
- Decreased aggression
- Enhanced self-esteem, resilience, and empathy
There are myriad ways to express gratitude to others, including writing a handwritten note to thank a mentor who’s had a meaningful and positive impact in your life, giving verbal props at a team meeting to a colleague for the way she handled a tricky situation, or calling a client to check-in and thank her for her business. The key to making your words of gratitude meaningful to others is ensuring they’re frequent, genuine, and specific.
Never underestimate the immense power of your words. When you use them with care, you signal to others and help them understand who you are and what matters most. And when you’re considering your professional legacy, being more mindful and intentional with your words is one small way to leave a positive lasting impact.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Amy Blaschka’s LinkedIn page.