Words That Matter

Whether in a one-to-one conversation, video, email, text, social media post, or group presentation, what we say matters. Everything from body language and non-verbal communication to our word choice creates an image and perception in the minds of our intended listeners. As leaders, we want our message to land with strength, clarity, and persuasion.

I’ve written several Stretches over the years on non-verbal communication, but on this Monday morning, I’d like to focus on strong word choice and the impact it can have on your intended message.

As a public speaker, blogger, author, and speaking coach, I’m a student of wordsmithing. I recently came across an article about strong word choice in the Harvard Business Review where the researchers found that most leaders and managers actually convey less commitment about ideas and decisions than they think they do by unknowingly choosing weaker words. Using weaker words diminishes a leader’s impact and blunts their ability to inspire.

Here are the three tactics they suggested for improving the strength of your message:

  • Choose the Strongest Verb. Here are six examples:
    1. Enable vs. Allow – “Innovations in client service enabled (vs. allowed) the store to sell more customized products.”
    2. Prevent vs. Avoid – “We must prevent (vs. avoid) a housing crisis for families.”
    3. Act vs. Address – “We acted on (vs. addressed) the severe impact of poverty in these communities.”
    4. Respond vs. React – “We responded (vs. reacted) immediately to the power shortage.”
    5. Overcome vs. Face – “We overcame (vs. faced) the biggest challenge.”
    6. Accomplish vs. Meet (a goal) – “I was thrilled we accomplished (vs. met) our most ambitious goal for the year.”
  • Stop “sharing.” Instead of “sharing” an idea, data, options… use words like proposing, suggesting, or recommending.
  • Audit Your “And’s.” This one is my nemesis.  For me, if one is good, two is better, and three is fabulous. But unless all the words are absolutely unique and necessary, all I accomplish by layering similar words into a sentence is to dilute my message. My mantra should be, “If one is good… stop there.” Here’s an example:
    1. “This effective and efficient approach will alert and inspire our most important and relevant audiences to love and treasure our brand.”
    2. “This effective approach will inspire our most important audience to treasure our brand.”

So much better, right? Clear and succinct. This doesn’t mean you’ll never use the word “and” in your messages. Just see it as a flag in your communications to decide if all the connected words are absolutely necessary or if you can hone (and refine) a stronger message.

The more powerfully we communicate, the more our listeners take action, adopt ideas, and experience us as leaders they want to follow.

“Good communication is the bridge between clarity and confusion.”

~ Nat Turner


    1. Thanks, Alan! I hope this means you’re in Hawaii! 🙂

    1. Amen, Ryan… and that is NOT always my strong suit. 🙂 My husband would agree with you!

Leave a Comment