Updated: Mar 25, 2020
“Actions speak louder than words” – a cliche that you will probably hear or see on several occasions. The irony of it is that the words actually define or articulate the actions you take. So it becomes extremely important that both words and actions are well aligned to represent the true spirit of any situation. An elderly gentleman once told me that history is often written by people who either researched it or watched it from far but seldom by the people who actually created it. If creating history was all about action, writing history was all about words. For some reason that stuck with me and a personal anecdote brings it to a full circle.
It was a typical summer evening, I was locked up with a bunch of senior executives working on a presentation of how to recast a certain business idea to an existing client of ours. After about 72 hours of iterations on PowerPoints, whiteboards, placemats, and what not – we were reviewing all our options. In the moment, I ignorantly told – this is a show stopper. One of the sr. executives turned to me and said – can you please restate it in positive words. He said try it in front of several of my peers.
Very embarrassed, I restated the same thing at least 6 times in probably the following sequence:
I started with this is a show stopper
I moved onto say well this could come in the way of us being successful
I then tried to say here are a few options and this particular option has a potential challenge
I retried again and said here are a few options and we need to look at solving this potential challenge
I tried again probably for the last time and said that here are a few options. Each of them have their pros and cons. We firmly believe that this is the option to proceed with while being cognizant of this potential challenge. We believe that we can mitigate this challenge by adopting the following tact.
The sr. executive then paused me and said reflect on all the words you used in the last 5 sentences and the impact of the persona you left with me (or) all the listeners. You were a nay sayer, you then toned it down but were still a nay sayer, you then made an open ended and informative statement (the kinds historians would make), and then you made yet another statement were in you were desperate for someone to answer. Then came the last statement that sounded a leader tone who recognizes the options, pros/cons, challenges, and is even proposing a tact to get over it. He said there is a time for hard hitting and direct conversations and how you position them will differentiate you going forward. I was just startled at the end of that conversation.
Over the years, I have come to observe and reckon that what differentiates two smart people is their attitude and the tone. It is the eloquence in the choices of words. An individual could potentially say – “we have a lot of work to do, we have been given a lot of work, or we have organized the volumes of work that has come our way to accomplish a task” and come away sounding overwhelmed, victim, or someone in control respectively.
You don’t have to hide the real situations or walk away from a difficult conversation all you have to do is position it with the right tone. Next time, you are in a conversation, very consciously observe the other leader (or) reflect on your choices and then think about the perception you potentially left with them. Make a tweak to the leadership tone and see the difference. Let me know what you find out by using the comments below.