Some of you might recognize the title of this post as the first agreement from a thought-provoking little book called “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. I think about the power of words often, and really like the idea of endeavoring to be impeccable with your word. This is particularly important for leaders, as they are watched closely and often imitated in an organization. You have the ability to influence, and you do this primarily through the words that you speak.
Consider John F. Kennedy’s words that ended up putting human beings on the moon. President Kennedy had a powerful positive intent that was spoken to millions, and it became reality at least partially through his speech. In a darker way, Osama bin Laden’s words of hate have manifested in innocent lives being lost, of evil and suffering beyond imagination. That’s the power of the word, and it’s clear that being impeccable with it is important.
We swim in language as fish swim in the sea, not noticing the power that our words have to manifest, to create and to destroy. So often we walk through our days speaking whatever comes to mind without thinking through exactly what we want to convey. Those of us who tend to “think out loud” need to continually remind ourselves to pause and to express our words with intent and care.
To be impeccable with your word:
Intent: Before you speak, how can you assure that your words are aligned with your intent? When you consider how many misunderstandings occur daily in our workplaces, you might want to make the effort to ensure that you are saying exactly what you want to say. Clarity will be key to your ability to influence, so think before you speak. Reflect when you can before important conversations about the things you want to convey and how you will convey them.
Honor: Be honorable in your use of words. Use them for good and moral purposes. Don’t intentionally damage or destroy others with your words, and always speak with civility and respect. Be cognizant of using the power of language in only the best way to influence the individuals who will be the recipients of your words.
Silence: Some of the most powerful moments happen in silence. There is no need for you to fill the void between words. Someone else will, and their words may be exactly what needs to be said. Allow white space between words, become comfortable with it, and foster and demonstrate the power of conversations that happen within the silent moments.
Clarity: Use words that are simple and, when possible, without multiple meanings that can be misconstrued. Technical jargon and acronyms that are only known to a few can cause lack of clarity, misunderstandings and anxiety. When complex terms that aren’t familiar to anyone but you are used, check your motivation. You just might be using them to build yourself up in the eyes of others.
Tone: The tone of voice used with your words is often as important as the words themselves. Notice how simple sentences can have different meanings to those who are listening based on what words are emphasized and what emotions are conveyed through your tone. This can be a big source of misunderstanding.
Integrity: If you literally “give your word” as a commitment, or a way to engender trust, make sure you follow through on it. A promise should be a promise, and when broken, it can be difficult to rebuild trust.
Your word is so much more important when you are intentional about how you use it. When you consider the power of your word, what does “be impeccable with your word” mean to you?
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 10 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.