Change the Way You Talk

listen-1702648_640Each year, I identify a handful of personal challenges. This is different form setting resolutions – something that millions of people do as part of their New Year’s celebration. I used to set resolutions as well, but switched to challenges for a couple of reasons.

First of all, resolutions are often too vague. The most popular seem to be things like “get in shape” or “get organized.” While those are admirable goals to shoot for, they are simply too innocuous to mean anything. There aren’t any measurable steps spelled out which means people rarely start them or have a means to track their progress, a key part of self-motivation.

Secondly, resolutions that are specific tend to create pass/fail scenarios. People who resolve to start working out twice a week will often go through the process of joining a gym. Then they hit the weights for a week or so, only to suddenly miss a week due to work travel or conflicting commitments. Once the streak is broken, they fall back into bad habits and abandon the resolution because they missed the mark of perfection.

The whole point of year-end reflection and goal-setting isn’t perfection, though, it’s improvement. That’s why I like the idea of challenges vs. resolutions. Stating my goal as a challenge affirms, from the beginning, that this isn’t going to be easy. I’m going to have to work at it. I expect to stumble. So when I fall short, it’s ok to get up and try again. The game isn’t over just because I haven’t succeeded out of the gate.

Last week, I shared my first challenge for 2017: to change how I think. The second of my three challenges (my mind tends to work in threes) is to change the way I talk. Now there are those who say we should all just work on talking less. In fact, a friend at church one said “I never miss an opportunity to keep my mouth shut.” That’s sound advice, but given the chance to speak, what kind of words ought to come out? Here’s what I plan to focus on…

I’m going to try to speak in ways that encourage people. If there’s anything that this year’s election cycle proves, it’s that hateful language hasn’t gone anywhere. I find it incredible that so many people find it so easy to voice derogatory and hurtful things about someone else – typically someone they don’t even know. As I write this, I’m thinking about an interaction I witnessed Saturday night.

My wife and I were on the way to a Christmas party and stopped at the store to pick up something we’d forgotten as part of our gift package. As we checked out, two ladies entered. Something had apparently happened in the parking lot as they were glaring at each other. Suddenly they both began shouting. Profanity, insults, and threats were all there on display for the rest of us – including the young daughter of the vilest participant.

Though I haven’t been part of a spectacle like this, I’m not always very encouraging either. I need to stop participating in gossip. I need to stop shooting down ideas I don’t agree with. I can work harder to recognize people for the positive qualities they bring to the table and be a better cheerleader for their efforts.

I’m going to try and speak in ways that add value to outcomes. As I mentioned, I’m not always supportive of ideas that I don’t agree with. However, just because they aren’t my ideas, doesn’t mean they are bad ones. I’m challenging myself to either voice my support in a way that adds value or take my friend’s advice and keep my mouth shut.

The world of improv comedy has a number of valuable lessons for leaders. One of these is to replace “no, but” with “yes, and.” This means that instead of immediately identifying ways something won’t work, we look for ways to add value and assist in making the effort a success. It’s a subtle shift of two words, but a giant shift in attitude.

I’m going to try and speak in ways that invite participation. Sometimes I have a tendency to keep really great ideas to myself. I do the same thing with difficult projects I’m working on. I guess I’m either embarrassed to ask for help, or want to present a perfect solution. Neither is a healthy reason for keeping others out.

The third part of changing the way I talk is to invite more people to work with me on things. Instead of holding all the cards until I (hopefully) have things figured out, I’m going to try including others who might be able to help me be more successful. It’s more fun to work with others anyway, and burdens are lighter when shared with a friend. Plus, victory is that much sweeter when you have someone to share it with.

There are just a few days left in 2016. Are you thinking about what you’ll do differently in 2017? How does the language you use play into those plans? I’ll share my third personal challenge for 2017 in my last article of the year next Monday.


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