Do you assume that your words are being taken at face value? Do you understand that a discussion can seem like a directive, or a corrective comment a crushing defeat? Do you not realize the multiplication effect of your position, resulting in the even more significant impact of seemingly small negative comments?
When a leader speaks, the impact of his or her words is multiplied by his or her position. The higher the position, the greater the impact of the words.
According to Dr. Richard and Judith Glasser of The Creating WE Institute, “Neuroscience is now teaching us that when we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone triggered by the hypothalamus causing a fight or flight reaction. Cortisol shuts down our reasoning ability and can cause us to either freeze or appease.” Negative words have an increased multiplier, so the positional multiplication makes negative statements from leaders almost deafening to their team members.
Research shows that it takes about 6 positive comments to overcome the impact of a single negative comment. A study of 60 leadership teams conducted by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada evaluated each team’s effectiveness based on financial performance, 360-degree feedback assessments and customer satisfaction ratings. They found that the most effective teams received an average ratio of 5.6 positive comments for every negative one. Conversely, the lowest performing teams received 3 negative comments for every positive one (a ratio of .36).
There was a leader we worked with many years ago who was prone to periodic angry outbursts. One especially troubling incident happened when someone resigned, and the leader began verbally berating him in their open workstation environment. The ugly words reverberated across the organization and created an environment of fear and risk aversion. For the most part, the leader was positive and engaging – but those few angry outbursts destroyed his leadership effectiveness.
Even a minor correction, worded poorly, can create a brain impact that reduces trust and productivity. Consider the difference between, “I appreciate the hard work you’ve put into this report. There are a few key facts missing that need to be incorporated before it’s ready to distribute. What changes need to be made?” and “This report is nowhere near ready to send; you’ve left out the most important information and screwed up the chronology. Do I have to do this myself to get it right?”
Leader’s words and actions shape culture. Leader’s words and actions communicate to their team what is and isn’t accepted. Leader’s words and actions build up or tear down their team members. Leader’s words determine their team’s effectiveness.
In today’s competitive environment would you rather have fully charged employees ready to take on their daily challenges, or beaten down employees who avoid taking risks and do enough to get by?
Change your language, change your impact, change the culture.