Leadership has been described as communication.

I describe communication as an art and a science.

To communicate effectively, you need to understand the science essentials of why, what, how and when.

You also need to develop the art of communication, an almost intangible, yet powerful skill.  A skill which can be learnt.

In this context, I wanted to discuss the power of words.

Words have power

What words we use, how we use them, when we use them and who we use them with have an undeniably powerful effect on the message sent and received in our all our various forms of communications or conversations.

As indicated above, leadership has been described as a conversation.

With this in mind, I would like to focus on two different conversation or communication scenarios.

The power of words in:

  1. Communicating with others
  2. Communicating with yourself

Words & Stress

Research confirms the words we use when communicating to those in stress can either be helpful or unfortunately exacerbate or worsen their stress.

Research published in the Journal of Communication those experiencing stress responded differently to messages based on whether their experience of the message validated or invalidated what they were feeling.

  • If what they experienced in the communication validated their feelings, it had a positive impact to the wellbeing.
  • If what they experienced in the communication invalidated their feelings, it had a negative impact to their wellbeing.

The research confirmed: – “social support can help alleviate emotional distress, increase physical & psychological wellbeing, and improve personal relationships”

Power of words & phrases

The research gives useful & practical insight into how you can be more effective in communicating with those feeling emotionally distressed.

It indicated the words and phrases you use can either:

  1. Validate someone’s feelings
  2. Leave them feeling criticized.

Types of messages

The research classified messages as either being or having:

  1. Low person centredness
  2. Moderate person centredness
  3. High person centredness.

It concluded:

  • A highly person centered messages recognized how someone felt, and helped them explore why of what they were feeling, so it helped to facilitate understanding why they felt as they did.
  • A low person centered messages left a person feeling criticized or feeling as if their feelings were not valid, as if they were being challenged on their right to feel the way they did.


I encourage you to:

  1. Reflect on the words and phrases you use in communication or a conversation?
  2. Reflect on how they may be received by the reader or person/team?
  3. Assess your words and phrases – where do they sit on the range of low to high person centredness?
  4. Consider the implication of your words and phrases, and how this will impact your ability to communicate?
  5. Finally, work on re-phrasing or re-wording to ensure your communication has a positive impact and facilitates delivery of your message.

Words & Self Talk

Yes, words have a powerful effect on others, however the words we use in our self-talk, also have a powerful effect on ourselves.

A question.  Have you given thought to the words “I should”?  Are you aware of how often you use the phrase”.  Likely not.

Pause for a moment, think about the context in which you use it, and importantly why you use it?

In working with my coaching clients, I hear a lot of I should statements.

In a wellbeing conversation, I hear:

  • I should exercise more
  • I should go to bed earlier
  • I should eat healthier
  • I should leave work earlier
  • I should stop reading my phone prior to bed
  • I should manage my stress better
  • I should take breaks at work
  • I should be more grateful for my life
  • I should pursue my passion
  • I could continue …

In Performance conversations, I hear:

  • I should manage my time better
  • I should feel more motivated
  • I should collaborate more
  • I should be more innovative
  • I should be a better leader
  • I should be more creative
  • I should not get impatient
  • Again, I could continue

I am pretty sure you get my drift, and I am pretty sure you use some of these phrases.

What does I should imply?

I should is a powerful statement, it:

  1. Indicates an obligation, a duty, a correctness
  2. Is used to judge yourself, to criticize yourself

It is my experience:

  • ‘I Should’ is often used without considering realistic do-ability.
  • Those who use it often, generally expect/demand a lot of themselves.

Re-frame I should

I strongly encourage you to avoid the use of the phrase I should.  I encourage you to re-frame and replace I should with alternative terms.

Here is what I encourage you to do:

Step One:

  1. Count how often you use “I should”?
  2. Reflect on when you are using it?
  3. Reflect on how it made you feel?
  4. Reflect on whether it helped you do the “thing” better?

Step Two:

  1. Identify potential replacement phrases; consider I will, I can, I will not, I cannot.  You can use any phrase that has positive and clear intent.
  2. Now explore using the phrases where you generally would use the phrase I should.
  3. Finally reflect on how it makes you feel?
  4. Also reflect on whether it triggers greater reflection and review of the activity?

Using a different phrase, making a positive statement:

  • Will be a prompt to think more deeply on what it is you want to do.
  • It will encourage reflection and review of the activity, it is valuable, is it doable, am I setting myself up to fail etc?
  • It can be a trigger to build insight into the why-what-how-when of the activity.

Judging or criticising yourself is not of value to you.  It will not build motivation for action, it will most likely demotivate you.

You may be thinking, this process may be like opening a Pandora’s box on the why-what-how-when.  If this is true, that is okay.  Step back, take the time to reflect, consider, analyse and then formulate a plan.

And of course, if you hit a blind alley in progressing, reach out for support and guidance.

Wishing you wisdom in the choice of your words.  I encourage you to seize the power, to have a positive impact and in doing so give yourself the best chance of delivering your message.

ciao Jan



  1. One Way Works Best to Help Others Through Stress. Katie Bohn Penn State
  2. Leadership is a Conversation. Boris Groysberg, Michael Slind. Harvard Business Review