In Author, Message creation, Mindset, News, The Winning Voice, What not to do

If you are an executive, consider, that when you speak, you have the power to inspire, or depress people.

The message, ‘The Words You Speak Matter’ was powerfully brought home to me while reading the landmark book, Tell me who you are – Sharing the story of race, culture & identity.

Here is a vignette from Chapter Five of the book, titled ‘The words we use matter’. 

The vignette is about a tour of Detroit, Michigan, USA – where the tour guide, Kathy, talks about a monument of legendary boxer Joe Louis. Tell me who you are authors Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi are part of the tour.

“…It (the monument) symbolises to many people how Detroit is the Comeback City. You see, this city’s getting much safe and cleaner than it ever was before. Our city’s spirit is strong just like Mr. Louis here.

Priya raised her hand, squinting from the sun. “Why Comeback City?”

‘Well – Kathy’s face scrunched up from distaste – “The city used to be very, very dangerous and – “

“Oh, well, after all, it was majority Black, right?” a visor-wearing tourist in the group said matter-of-factly.

Our eyes widened.

The group was silent.’

Your work communication, I suspect, doesn’t have to traverse topics of race that are the focus of the vignette.

Still, how aware are you of the words you speak at work?

Are you, at times, reckless with your words?

I hear many executives who are reckless with words . . .

Here is another passage from Tell me who you are, that continue on from the above passage . . .

“No, no, not like that.” the tourist Susan stammered. She nervously adjusted her visor. “I’m color-blind, for Christ’s sake.’

It was important to us (the authors) to explain to Susan that being color-blind was nothing to be proud of – after all, if you can’t see race, you can see racism either.

Instead we cited Mellody Hobson, and suggested she be color-brave. Or, as critical race theory calls for, we recommended ‘race-conscious’ decision making. As we spoke her eyes wandered and her body language seemed to say, ‘Oh, boo hoo, stop being so picky about words.”

“… The words we use matter. Words can show malice or ignorance. Words can make manifest dangerous ideologies and actions.”

Own the Conversation

In the next seven days:

  • Become more aware of the words you use.
  • Intermittently ask yourself, ‘Why am I talking?’ (you can remember this with the acronym ‘WAIT’.
  • Consider what words of yours depress people?
  • Consider what words inspire people? What words light their eyes? What words make them feel energised after an interaction with you?


Next week on Friday 9 April, I’m conducting an all-day, public workshop for the University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education on ‘Plan and deliver memorable presentations’.

I’d love you to join me for the workshop.

You’ll learn numerous, fresh, powerful techniques to upgrade your presentation and speaking impact.

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