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by: Brent Lowe

Imagine sitting with your colleagues — having an intense business conversation — and using these words: love, sensing, soulful, emergent, harvest.

Are you wincing?

I’m years into championing new ways of working and still find it challenging to shift my language. These words can seem too revealing… too foreign… too out there. And yet, these words describe what I’m feeling and hoping for in my work interactions.

How nice would it be for our feelings and language to align? To be able to speak without hesitation or fear of embarrassment? 

When our current ways of working fail us, we need to do something different. So often we look first to our systems. We change our accountability mechanisms, our meeting structures, our approach to compensation. Time passes and nothing fundamentally shifts. We’re no closer to constructing our desired workplace. Here’s why.

The belief cycle  

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We each operate by cycling through eight elements. We have deeply held beliefs. These beliefs shape how we think and the stories we tell ourselves. Our stories reveal themselves through the words we use and actions we take. Over time our words and actions become unconscious habits we repeat again and again. As our habits layer one on top of the other, our character forms. As a result of our character, we experience a pattern of results. Those results influence our beliefs. And around we go again.

We can also move through this cycle backwards. If we are not getting the results we want, something needs to change in how we show up. New habits are called for. How do we develop new habits? By changing our actions, words and thoughts. For those to change, we need to experiment with new beliefs.

Playing with new beliefs and thoughts starts in our head and in our heart. When we consciously change our language we move from our internal to external world. 

So I can believe that love, sensing, soulfulness, emergence and harvesting are important parts of business. But until I shift my language my beliefs will not take shape.

The power of language

Notice the way you use language to reinforce patterns in your workplace. Our word choices influence behaviour and reinforce triggers and reactions. Over time teams develop consistent language that — for better or worse — creates and supports a cultural identity. Some words are so common that we often don’t think twice about them. Feedback, performance, collaboration, management and leadership. Each of these words, although commonplace, is layered with assumptions and varying definitions.

Here’s one example of an unconscious language choice in action. Most organizations speak of employees and employers. This language is rooted in an adult-child paradigm. Employees work for employers. Employers call the shots. But both are simply groups of humans. What if we shift to using the word colleagues, each with their own unique role and contribution? “Colleagues” comes from an adult-adult paradigm. Can you see how our actions, habits and leadership character could shift as a result?

In our workplaces—and all parts of our lives — language choices signal our intent. 

Experimenting with conscious language

Start paying close attention to the words you and others use within your team. Which words and phrases move your team in the right direction? Which ones keep you stuck?

I often use the term “practices” in my work helping teams learn to lead together. It’s a deliberate word choice to remind us that we are always learning. When we’re practicing something—such as experimenting with new language — we do that thing over and over again. By doing so, we get better and more comfortable. We develop an awareness of our current language and see more and more opportunities to shift.

Want to find out more? Listen to the Q&A session with Brent, Susan and Travis where they explore conscious language in further detail below:

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