The Power of Language

Yesterday I got an email from the head of the department.  It was addressed like this:


I have following request for you…….”

It doesn’t matter what the request was.  What I remember my brain doing was the following:

1)I’m not a clown

2) Why would a leader of a department call me a clown?

3) I am one of the 7 people that this mail is addressed specifically so I know I have an action item and yet…..

4) I’m not a clown.

A day later I came back to a few emails from my group who had responded to the original request.  They had fulfilled it.  I re-read the original email and realized the following:

I missed a deadline.

Oh my god, I missed a deadline.

I need to say this from the bottom of my I-really-own-my-own-crap-place that: I do not miss deadlines. In fact, I’m not sure that I can remember one that I’ve missed.  I know that there are other things that I don’t do well or things that I miss, but deadlines…..nope….I just don’t.  I re-negotiate them.  I request to move them…sure.  But miss them, not.

After I got over the fact that someone on my team had to fulfill the request that I didn’t complete (and I’m probably still not quite over it) I pondered the question:

Why would I miss this?

I am not a clown.  That’s why.

Language is powerful.

If you want to motivate, empower, inspire, help, get-what-you-want, lead, manage…even direct or conduct, language is powerful.  It deterred me.  It saddened me.  It mad me mad.  It evoked many emotions. None of which made me want to fulfill the request.  In fact, it made me sad and mad for the others that had to do it, not only in my place but in response to language that’s not empowering.

We are not dogs.  We are not monkeys.  And we are not clowns.

We are human beings.  And as human beings we have  many choices.  Many good options, in fact.  One of which, is not to call people clowns.

Some words are less obviously hurtful or demotivating?  What words do you wish your co-workers (and friends) would choose more carefully?

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