Blogs by InnovatorsBox®


Originally published in: Forbes

Words are powerful. We’ve all been in conversations when someone’s words empower you to feel overjoyed or when they hurt you so deeply that you feel rejected. Why can we be so sensitively influenced by what others say — or don’t say? 

It’s a question I raise when I work with leaders and companies to think differently about trust-building, culture development and leadership. How we communicate matters. The tone we use can send emotional signals to the receiver — especially as we, as a nation, are in the midst of a movement. Simply issuing statements that you advocate for innovation or diversity without ensuring that thoughtful messaging is paired with action can create greater distrust and uncertainty. How you communicate via your email, your tone and your energy in a meeting, as well as how you delegate tasks, signals if you really care about innovation or diversity. Or, rather, if your words and actions feel like a transactional empty promise. 

I’ve been thinking a lot more about the importance of intentional communication and messaging as Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter continue to evolve. Saying something too fast is reactive. Saying something too late looks like you aren’t paying attention. Saying something even with good intentions can hurt people or backfire. Saying something too personal can be called out as not community-centric. I hear you. When the headlines are changing so fast and the subjects feel complicated, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and discouraged when it comes to finding the right words. So where do you start?

1. Take space and time to process. 

The urge to say something is a reflection of our need to express our thoughts. But what we often don’t stop to ask when we feel rushed or reactive is why. Why am I feeling the need to say this? Why do I want to say this? Why does it matter for me to speak up? When we don’t take the time to pause and process, we may speak or write out of context, which can leave a wrong, and lasting, impression. As an individual, a leader or an organization, take time to reflect on why you want to say, write or do something.

2. Reflect on why communicating this matters in this context.

Once you understand why you want to communicate something, it’s important to understand the context and weight of what can happen when you say it. When you disagree with your colleague about how a project should be done, think through how the message will be received based on how you communicate it — via email, phone, a one-on-one Zoom meeting or a team meeting. The context of when and how things are said gives you a chance to reevaluate, rearticulate or clarify if there is miscommunication. At the same time, when you choose the wrong communication platform, such as expressing negative feedback during an online team meeting, it puts you on the fast track to discouraging innovation and dismantling trust. The same thing can be said with Black Lives Matter and Pride Month. Are you posting statements in the right places in a way that is authentic and will be received in the best way possible by your audiences?

3. Be sure to say what you really mean.

The more complicated things are, the more important it is to focus on saying what you actually mean in a focused way — especially when we, as humans, feel and think multiple things at the same time. Are you upset because the project was delayed, because payment was delayed, because a team member was unable to deliver on time or because you are feeling overwhelmed or out of control? The more you intentionally take time to reflect on the context of communication, the easier it becomes to find the right words to effectively communicate what you actually mean and to be clear in your expected outcome.

4. Listen more.

Active listening is a skill we can all strengthen, not just when we listen to others, but also when we listen to ourselves. If we are not actively listening to how our mind and body is reacting, thinking or feeling about something, it’s harder to take the time to process what, and why, we want to communicate. By learning to think of yourself as a third party, you can fully observe how you feel and think. This permits you to assess every scenario with curiosity and an open mind instead of feeling the urge to react or respond. And when we learn to listen more, we are likely to see our own communication patterns. This level of self-awareness and knowledge is key to making a real, sustainable impact in our world. 

In sum, thoughtful communication takes time, but I believe the effort is worth it. In the process, we may make mistakes, but the key is a commitment to wanting to understand more deeply. In a way, the more complicated and overwhelming the day feels, going back to these steps reminds me there is always room for compassion and curiosity. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we all felt more understood at the end of the day?

About the Author

Picture of Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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