Cowboys and cowgirls of the American West have an expression we can all learn from: Taste your words before you spit them out. Learning to edit or filter your thoughts is not easy for strong leaders. They often underestimate how others will run with the words they use and find themselves defensive or insulted while they remain oblivious to this impact.
Words matter to people, and the words and expressions we use represent who we are and how we view others. We can drastically alter the way others see us by the choices we make in our language.
When leaders use inflammatory language or expressions that are interpreted as a challenge, an insult or worse, listeners bristle. The end result does not benefit the leader, as people react to the words and not the message.
Great leaders constantly edit and filter their thoughts and decide what candor best suits the moment. In contrast, polarizing leaders live by the bubble gum machine theory of communication—turn the handle and whatever they are thinking comes rolling out of the mouth. This is a recipe for fluid communication, but a disaster for the relationships those leaders wish to foster.
Valuing not just the message, but the words that convey that message, is important to effective leaders. Think about the impact your word choices have on others before you let them escape from your mouth. Leaders who edit less are often surprised by how others react to them. Having good intentions and motives is not enough. Select your words and expressions carefully. Taste them and swallow the words that won’t help. No more bubble gum.