The Power of Wordsmithing

Sept. 1, 2023
Words, and how those words are communicated, have an impact.

Did Juliet have it wrong? When a young Juliet proclaims her desire for Romeo on that balcony, she denounces the nature of words when she proclaims, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Understanding her own desires, she downplays the family name of her lover. While she yearned for simplicity to obtain what she truly wanted, she did not truly understand how the words Montague and Capulet could cause such destruction in her life. The very defiance of the power of words ultimately cost the lives of her and her lover.

The poor use of words in history has cost many careers and lives. Not understanding their intended market, Chevy brought the Nova to Mexico and didn’t understand why it would not sell (Nova translates to “no go” in Spanish.) Orders sent down military ranks delayed a major battle in World War II when “if at all possible” was used, casting doubt on the true intent of the directions. The Cold War almost took a turn for the worse when a phrase that translates to “it’s your funeral” was translated as “we will bury you,” almost erupting into a nuclear attack.

Failing to properly communicate with your guests is equally as consequential (well, to your bottom line). When a guest is upset because they changed out their air filter and the A/C is still hot, they tend to think you ripped them off. The simplicity of failing to elaborate on the function of the filter puts you automatically in the wrong.

Lack of words causes confusion with your team. Many moons ago, a young and dumb kid was working at a Taco Bell when he was pulled to the storage area in the back by the manager and told to, “Clear all of this out and throw it away.” To the surprise of the manager, everything in the room was cleared out and thrown away. Even the shelving ended up trashed. And yes, I was the young and dumb kid following directions to the letter.

Proper wording can cause as much good as improper wording causes harm. Utilizing the right words in your dialog (internally and externally) changes the very nature of your actions. “I want,” “I need,” and “I should have” all shower us with contentment and dreams. Whereas “I am working on,” “I will,” and “I am” set us mentally on a path to accomplish our goals.

In my house, the word “impossible” is forbidden. In the epic words of Bruce Wayne, “Everything is impossible until someone does it.” Imagine if it was impossible to sail to a new world because you would fall off the edge of the earth. What if it was impossible to talk to people instantly around the world? Not too long ago, it was impossible to beat cancer (four years strong). The only thing we can do with the impossible is set limits on our lives, and that is not what I want my family to practice.

“I don’t know” gets you nothing in life. If a new hire for some reason answers the phone and the potential customer asks how much an oil change is only to be answered with “I don’t know,” you would more than likely lose that potential business. If your kid answers a question on the test with “I don’t know’ they get the answer wrong and risk failure. This phrase is consistently used as a conversation killer. “Why did this happen? ... I don’t know” is a sure sign of someone refusing to engage in the conversation. To be clear, sometimes you don’t know. You can, however, find out. This addition puts the ability back on us to take action and continue growing.

Wordsmithing should not be just an art utilized by poets, writers and advertisers. The act of constructing communication through carefully placed words should be used in your service review (Ford recommends the radiator service at 100,000 miles, not you). It should be used in your communications to your direct reports: “Take all of the boxes in this room and throw them out.” It should be used in your internal dialog when you set goals in your life: “I am working on being a good leader.” It should also be used when mentoring your loved one: “Nothing is impossible, improbable...maybe, but it can be done once you discover how.” And it should be used on your conquest to be better: “I don’t know yet, but I can find out.”

Challenge yourself, your team and your loved ones to change their conversation. Do not denounce a word for your own selfish desires. Feel free to drop me an email of other wordsmithing successes. I may not know of them, but I would like to find them out.