Language can spur us to take action or cause us to stand still. When someone yells “Fire!” we dash out the door. However, when someone says “I think I might smell a little bit of smoke” we sniff around and take time to investigate.
As adults, we learn to use phrases like “it’s a tough economy” or “we are facing some challenges” to minimize anything from a missed quarterly financial target to massive budget pressure or imminent bankruptcy.
The intent behind these phrases is to explain the reason(s) for the current situation. By keeping employees calm, suggesting that external forces could be to blame, or insinuating that the problems are temporary, the organization unfortunately delays taking action.
These explanations become debilitating when believed by the employees in an organization facing problems with cash flow, decreased revenue, poor customer service or major competitive threats. Why? Because employees are receive the message that there is nothing they can do to change the circumstances. Instead, they wait for management to make a change, or for the external economic climate to shift like the wind.
What if we eliminated the euphemistic explanations?
Frequently, these explanations mask a fear – fear of failure, of not being good enough or not having all the answers. Instead, one waits and hopes for the problem to go away. However, while problems feel difficult, frustrating and challenging, they tend to also open up unexploited opportunity.
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford
Leaders take a stance. They acknowledge when there is a problem and map out a plan for change – or they engage their team to work out a solution. Straight talk helps to empower and engage your employees.
When you lay out the situation, convey your confidence that it can – and must – be solved, and then ask for input, you can gain a new perspective. By engaging a third party, such as a consultant, you can also gain a different, neutral point of view. Ultimately, as a leader in an organization, you are responsible for making decisions. However, as Henry Ford said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”