Right from when we say our first words, there is an enormous importance placed on the words we use. We’re congratulated for saying some words, but not others. We’re taught how to use the ‘right’ words, how to use different words for different things, and are schooled in various nuances. Those subtle nuances are something that has stuck with me throughout life, perhaps because while the nuance itself may be subtle, the result is often not.

One particular example is how people seem to like using the word ‘awesome’ when really, what they’re describing is simply just good or okay, and therefore ‘good’ (or ‘okay’) will do. Awesome means awe-inspiring or something that is extremely good or excellent. Think about it.

An article on The Atlantic uncovered another one of these language habits that’s becoming more common, which is to use the word ‘so’ at the end of a sentence. The technical term for it is a ‘dangling so’ or a ‘trailing so’, both carrying the obvious connotation that the sentence to which it is attached is left hanging.

It may have interactional benefits, says Galina Bolden, associate professor of communication at Rutgers University. It implies an upshot, or something being implied by the speaker, leaving it to the addressee to infer an obvious conclusion from what was said. It can also imply that two people in a conversation are on the same page. As pointed out by Julie Beck, it comes back to the fact that “a lot of times what’s left unspoken is just as powerful as what’s spoken. So.”

Leaving things unspoken, listening instead of talking, and finding the right words when talking, are especially important to the way leaders communicate. Particularly in large organizations, what leaders say, and the words they use, carries significance. It’s because people look to leaders for clarity, perhaps around a problem, or a future goal. They also look to leaders for inspiration. Choosing the right words matters because it could mean the difference between motivating people or not. Words also have the power to create emotions – using the right one matters.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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