A leader’s language usage can be one of the most powerful tools for properly motivating his workforce.
- Mojo Moments CEO Susan Fowler—and author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work, and What Does—says that poor language usage in the workplace from leaders can be a major motivator or demotivator for employees.
- “Language defines a culture,” says Fowler.
- “Leaders are constantly using words filled with connotations that undermine their best intentions. It can take decades or longer to purge the language of leadership and incorporate more evolved thinking,” she says.
- Fowler says that leaders need to watch how they frame their language and pay attention to how their words generate positive or negative energy in their employees. Language usage that contributes to “feeling unsafe, defensive, guarded, inferior, incompetent or fearful” can hurt morale.
Why it’s Important
“Instead of embracing the language more likely to generate their desired results, there’s always a handful of leaders who ask: Why should I have to guard every word I utter to protect someone’s precious psychological needs?” says Fowler.
As we previously reported, many companies are struggling with the ongoing phenomenon of quiet quitting and the “great resignation.” Employees are seemingly unwilling to go above and beyond the call of duty and are putting in the minimum to avoid being fired—or they’re just quitting and seeking greener pastures.
“How does all this play into the words you use as a leader—especially when promoting people’s psychological need for choice, connection, and competence? According to recent research from McKinsey, escaping a toxic culture is the second most cited reason people are resigning from their jobs to seek new ones (or staying and quiet quitting instead),” says Fowler.
Some companies are paying tens of thousands to hire consultants to help resolve the issue or cracking down on perceived offenders. The solution though may be as simple as improving your workplace environment and building better relationships.
Fowler has several suggestions for strategies for changing language in the workplace, but she uses the example of non-controlling language. Using non-controlling language helps avoid suppressing an employee’s desire for connections, choice, and competence while encouraging and building these values and motivating the worker.
“I recommend, for example, that they avoid controlling language and closed-ended questions that stifle people’s mindfulness and erode optimal motivation,” says Fowler.
“My bottom line message to leaders is: The language of business harbors vestiges of traditional command-and-control leadership and a leader-centric perspective proven inadequate for promoting well-being and workplace effectiveness,” she says.