The Amazing, Astounding Power of Words

Scrabble tiles interlocking to spell "Choose Your Words"If you know ancient myths and fairy tales at all, you know that knowing someone’s “true name” gives you power over them.

This isn’t as far-fetched as you might imagine. Words form identity, and identity is at the root of culture, in organizations, teams, communities, and families.

Culture change starts by identifying where you are so you know what needs to happen to get you where you want to be. As I’ve said more times than I can count, it’s really hard to get to Paris if you don’t know whether you’re starting from New York or London.

So, where is your culture today? Listen to the words and phrases. What are people saying, in meetings, in casual encounters, in emails, texts, Slack and Teams?

What words are acceptable? What jargon is used, and how is it used – is it clarifying, or obfuscating?

How do people ask questions? (Erm … do they ask questions?) How do people discuss mistakes? Ideas? Strategy?

What words, phrases, and terms are your leaders using to talk about the work, and about the people?

Are their actions in alignment with their words? If not, how far out of alignment are they?

What words do you use?

Take an inventory of the language people use in casual and formal situations, whether they’re a leader or an individual team member. Notice the extent to which they do – or don’t – “walk their talk,” either in a positive way (they say good things and do good things) or a negative way (they’re demeaning or dishonest in some way, and their actions prove it). It will give you a ton of insight into your culture.

And from there, you can start to speak differently, act accordingly, and set a new tone to seed a shift toward a culture that’s closer to what you want.

Curious about how to plan and implement this type of culture inventory? Drop me a note through my contact form and we can set a time to talk about it.