For project managers, directors, and anyone else in a similar role, the words you use when speaking with your employees really matter. It’s not just what you communicate, but how you communicate it. The psychological impact of language is something that many professionals tend to forget, especially when up against a deadline or working with a difficult client. Using the right words and proper tone can help you improve the effectiveness of constructive criticism and even create a stronger bond among your team members or with your client(s). Also, it can result in a happier, more cohesive team, which leads to better work, happier clients, and a healthier working environment.
It’s what you say …
There are plenty of ways to say the same thing, but each way may come across completely different, depending on the words you use, your tone of voice, and your audience. This is especially important for project managers and others in leadership positions. After all, a director is only as effective as his or her team. Therefore, a solid understanding of the psychology of language can be an invaluable skill to pick up. For instance, let’s say you have a mock-up of a new infographic due at the end of the week for a fairly demanding client. There are plenty of ways that a project manager could request a status update from either the creative team or the account executive:
1) “Where is that mock-up? I need to see your progress immediately.”
2) “How’s the mock-up coming? Any questions on the assignment? Will you be ready to review at the end of the work day today?”
3) “When will you be ready to get me that mock-up? The account team and I need to review it before it goes to the client on Friday.”
Another example: A junior copywriter submits a draft that quite simply missed the mark. There are a few ways to address this:
1) “What was your line of thinking that lead to this concept?” (Note: Even if the initial draft missed the mark, the ideas behind it may still be solid, so don’t automatically dismiss things, especially from a junior team member).
2) “Did you even read the creative brief? This doesn’t even align with brand standards. Go back to the drawing board, and show me something good next time.”
3) “Hmmm, the client won’t like this.” (Proceed to take the draft and mark it up with disparaging comments).
Media buyers, social media managers, account executives, and other staffers aren’t immune either. While no one is perfect, it is how you approach mistakes or missteps that really count and that starts with the initial conversation about what went wrong and how to fix it.
… And how you say it:
Of course, the tone you use when you deliver your message matters as well, almost as much as the words you use. Even if you’re frustrated, being able to modulate your voice and speak slowly and deliberately can go a long ways when trying to keep things calm. People pick up on frustration. On the other hand, sometimes being a bit witty, flippant, or even sarcastic may lighten the mood, if that’s how your team generally communicates. This is a case of knowing your team and your employees, but sometimes a well-placed joke can ease the tension and make everyone relax.
Use “I” language and positive words:
This one can actually extend into all areas of your life, even outside of work. Speaking in “I” statements, placing the focus or blame on yourself (e.g., “What can I do to help you accomplish your tasks on time?” versus “You’re always late on deadlines.”) is less confrontational and won’t put people on the defensive as easily. Using affirmative words or phrases like “good start” or “I see where you were going here, but have you considered X” will help encourage the right sort of progress, as opposed to being negative and only pointing out what’s wrong with someone’s work.
Good language skills lead to great results and a happy crew:
Despite the fact that the esteemed philosopher and author Niccolo Machiavelli stated that it is preferable for leaders to be feared than loved, that isn’t always the case, especially when it comes to developing creative concepts or strategies. After all, you never want your team to be frightened to question leadership or broach new ideas. That’s how agencies stagnate. Using the psychology of language properly is one of the first steps towards creating a harmonious team that feels confident in their work and enjoys it. It leads to much better creative executions and results for your agency and clients.
Remember: Words do have power. Use them wisely.
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“If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”
~ Exodus 15:26