Use a Hierarchy of Emphasis
Raising concerns about issues and people with the appropriate emphasis is never easy, even for the best leaders. Unintentionally causing a five-alarm fire over a smoldering issue is never a good idea, nor is failing to warn others of impending doom. Of course, most concern falls somewhere between those endpoints. The question is how to register it.
Think of emphasis along a continuum where specific words create just the right accent to fit the situation and the beliefs you hold. Words carry emotion embedded within them. As the emotion connected to a word or expression rises, so does the emphasis we place on the importance of addressing the problem.
Here’s a stab at creating a hierarchy with rising emphasis:
I’m unclear about how this will work.
I have a question about how this will work.
I have a concern with how this will work.
I have an issue with how this will work.
I am troubled by how this will work.
I am alarmed by how this will work.
The best leaders think strategically about the words they use to raise and create emphasis. They don’t want to overplay or underplay their hand, as they can inadvertently cause panic or complacency. Since all language is imbued with emotion, some words carry more emphasis than others. The hierarchy from low-to-high emphasis might look like the words above, although there are no guarantees.
People are always afforded the privilege of interpreting words and ascribing meaning in any way they desire. Consider the hierarchy of unclear/ question/ concern/ issue/ troubled/ alarmed. Now, create your own view of what words or phrases register concern and emphasis in a consistent way.
The key point is to be conscious of how you raise issues and draw attention to their importance. Select your words carefully and strategically when addressing delicate matters. How you do that may have a significant influence on what is heard.