Regardless of your role, having great communication skills only improves your ability to lead. It helps you better motivate your team, create a culture of open and honest feedback, and keep people organized and on the right track.
As someone who works in public relations (and loves language), I spend a significant amount of time figuring out the most effective ways to convey messages. I’ve noticed some of the bad habits people adopt in the workplace, and the impact that changing these habits has on both the outcomes of conversations and leaders’ credibility and confidence.
Here are three you can fix today to be a stronger leader at work:
1. Use “Don’t” Instead of “Can’t” When Turning Down Projects
For many people, saying “no” can be one of the most difficult skills to master—and yet the most important. How you say it is almost as crucial as saying it at all.
Most people often use can’t or don’t when turning opportunities down, but one of the two is exponentially better than the other.
When people say they can’t do something, it shows limitations to their abilities. By using don’t, it expresses power in the choice.
For example, if you’re presented with a new business opportunity that serves an audience not in line with your target demographic, instead of saying, “I appreciate the opportunity, but we can’t take on this project now,” say, “We appreciate the opportunity, but don’t serve clients outside the entertainment industry.”
By phrasing your response in an empowering way, you reinforce the value of both yourself and your business.
2. Stop Writing “Sorry for the Delay” in Emails
In 2016, journalist Marissa Miller tweeted, “Adulthood is emailing ‘sorry for the delayed response!’ back and forth until one of you dies.”
Since then, tens of thousands have liked, retweeted, and shared her post across other social media platforms. To say it resonated would be an understatement.
I’ve had people apologize to me for a delayed response within the same day of receiving my initial message. Crazy, right?
Why are we so eager to apologize for being a reasonable communicator? It ultimately makes people sound weak and undermines their authority.
Let’s ban the phrase. Instead of writing, “Sorry for the delay,” say, “Thank you for your patience.” You can even elaborate, if appropriate, to include why you were delayed in responding: “Thank you for your patience while I gathered the information required to provide you with clear next steps.”
This one small change will enhance your perception as a competent, confident leader.
3. Tell People You’re “Focused” Instead of “Busy”
How often do you hear colleagues talk about their busy schedules?
While I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon, we can improve the way we characterize our activities so our language honors our priorities.
When people say they’re busy, it sounds like their lives are out of control and they don’t know how to manage their time.
Instead of saying you’re busy, clearly state your priorities. That means “I’m so busy” or “Work is crazy right now” becomes “I’m traveling for an event” or “I’m focused on developing two new client proposals.”
Putting yourself back in the driver’s seat immediately makes you feel calmer and more in control.
People often don’t realize how the seemingly trivial things we say can significantly impact the way others perceive us. Making these small changes will increase your capacity to effectively lead others as well as work alongside them. Let’s start empowering ourselves and, in turn, those around us by honoring our intentions, priorities, and full lives.