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On Second Thought

By Chuck Violand

November 21, 2016

There’s a framed quote in my office that reads “Remember, every time you open your mouth to talk, your mind walks out and parades up and down your words.” The quote is by Edwin H. Stuart, and oh, how often I’ve wished that I’d taken the time to consider those words before I spoke … or wrote!

Our words really are an outward expression of what we’re thinking and what we believe. So, when trying to get to the root cause of a problem that just won’t go away, it’s frequently a good strategy to just let the person experiencing the problem talk. It’s amazing how revealing their words can be.

Some time ago, I listened as a client went on a rant about not being able to attract any workers to his company. In this particular case, he was talking about frontline workers, but I’ve heard similar comments from other owners about other positions. He told me how grateful his workers should be just to have jobs, and how they should be willing to walk through walls for him. I had to check my wall calendar to make sure I hadn’t somehow been transported back a decade or two, to a time when people actually needed jobs and there were more workers than jobs to employ them. Needless to say, I was astonished.

The most frustrating part about the discussion was that this owner was completely blind to the impact his thinking and his words were having on his ability to hire and keep good people. He simply didn’t see it, and as a result, his company continued to cycle poor performers in and out the front door.

Rather than complaining about an entire workforce of poor performers who seemingly didn’t want to work, the owner would have been better served to look in a mirror and ask himself how his thinking, and then his accompanying behaviors, were contributing to the problem. Naturally, that would have required that he take ownership of at least part of the problem, and that was something he was not about to do.

It’s not uncommon for people to say things, having absolutely no idea of the impact their words have on those around them. This impact is magnified when you occupy a leadership role within a company. You not only affect your own performance, but the performance of the people who report to you. In many cases, this can be huge!

This principle isn’t relegated only to the things we say about employees or potential employees. It holds true with what we think and say about our customers, our suppliers, and just about anyone else somehow involved in our businesses. If we talk in condescending tones about others, then that’s typically how we act. And if that’s how we act, then that is the model those around us will follow … and the attitude they will take into the conversations and relationships they have with those being talked about.

Sometimes, the best advice comes from simple lessens. We should ask ourselves what role we might be playing in the problems we’re experiencing in our businesses, especially if they are recurring problems. We should remind ourselves to count to ten before saying something in frustration or anger. And, above all, we should keep in mind that what we say gives others a peek into what we’re really thinking and believing.