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The Consequences of a Single Word

You might be surprised to learn that the reason you aren’t getting that promotion you’ve been working for or landing that big client you’ve been courting might all come down to the use of one single word.

I spoke yesterday with a very accomplished woman about putting together a program for a women’s group she is involved with and why it was so important that women (and all people really) learn to “conquer the conversation.”

She shared with me something that happened to her at a previous company where she worked; she was moving up the corporate ladder but ran into quite the glass ceiling all because of the word “feel.”

During a conversation with her boss about why she wasn’t being promoted further, he told her how great a job she was doing except for one problem. When she presented her ideas at meetings she would often start with the phrase, “I feel we should…….” Even if her idea was brilliant, he was stuck on the fact that she “felt” this is what should be done instead of “knowing” what should be done.

He actually had two problems with her word choice. First he by using the word “felt” she was implying to him that she wasn’t that that sure of her ideas and second, he wanted her to be using her brain and not her gut instinct.

Not only did this particular boss decide she had a confidence issue. But since he was not a fan of the use of what he felt were instincts instead of knowledge, he was adding additional meaning to the word that had even stronger negative connotations for him than they did for her.

This is a classic gender communication difference that can unknowingly wreak havoc on a person’s career. And don’t get too carried away with the equality issues illustrated by the problem because it can happen just as easily in the reverse with a female boss interpreting words men use to relay confidence as arrogance instead.

This miscommunication happens between generations as well with certain words being common with some age groups and practically never uttered in another. Words also take on different meanings with different generations.

When you think about all of this, it’s a wonder we are able to effectively communicate with each other at all!

So how do you overcome these obstacles? How do you make sure that your career, your business, your future, isn’t being derailed by the difference in opinion over a single word?
And before you think the only person who has anything to lose in the story was my new friend who left her previous company after realizing she would not be able to change her boss’ opinion of her, and ended up moving higher up the ladder at a different organization, think for a minute about the cost her old company. They lost a valuable employee and then had to go through the expense to hire and train a replacement costing them not only money, but momentum as well.

My solution here is the same as it is in so many other situations you see me write about: ask questions. Questions lead to better understanding and a stronger connection.

Remember, you are responsible for all the relationships in your life. Ask your boss if he/she has any hesitations about you and your future. Ask your employees why they do something or say something so that you get the opportunity to get on the same page. Ask your prospects if there is anything you have said they aren’t fully confident in understanding.

Now you may still not get the job, the promotion or the client; and there will unfortunately still be communication mishaps, but at least you know that you’ve done all you could.

So be brave enough to ask questions – open ended questions that bring greater understanding and closer connections.

Oh yeah, and be brave enough to be open to the answers!

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