Choose Your Words Wisely: Insight from Dale Fallon, Founder of The Communication Gym®

We all know the language used in a conversation is important. It’s even more significant when we have to give negative feedback; we must choose our words carefully.

In this YouTube video, I discuss some of the language managers should use when they have to criticize an employee behavior or performance.

Dale Fallon

Dale Fallon

I’ve asked Dale Fallon of The Communication Gym® to offer some insight into language and communication. I recommend following his advice and using it as a roadmap to verbal and non-verbal conversations.  Below is the Q&A with Mr. Fallon.

Tell me about The Communication Gym® and your role within the business.

TCG is a training company focused on delivering business results for small business teams.  We teach fundamental and role specific communication skills that bring real world solutions to business owners.  I am the founder and President of The Communication Gym®.

In your opinion, how much weight does language carry in communication (versus other factors such as tone?)

As it relates to rapport and influence, up to 93 percent of communication is non-verbal (volume, pace, tone, and physiology).   Although it only references situational (specifically exerting influence and building rapport) it is still a surprising number.  With that being said there is a large part of the equation that includes the words you choose to communicate.  There are words and phrases that are hot buttons for some people.  There are also words and usage that will create a hostile environment vs. creating a trusting and open environment.  Non-verbal may be weighted higher than verbal, but the fact of the matter remains, it only takes one stone (a poorly chosen or misplaced word) to tip the scale.  The words you choose will have a large impact in the effectiveness of your communication.  Choose wisely!

Today, many communicate via email or by other electronic means.  Should language be stated differently when using electronic communication, as opposed to more traditional ways of communicating such as the telephone or a or face-to-face meeting?

I don’t think it should be stated differently as much as it should be prepared for differently.  In face to face interactions, or even phone interactions, you have the gift of immediate feedback.  When you express yourself, you are going to get an immediate response as to how it was received.  With this information you can make decisions and adjustments to your message.  Without the closed feedback loop you cannot adjust course or make clarifications to your message.  Once you hit “send,” it is out of your hands.  You have to pay more attention to how your audience is likely to interpret what you are saying, or how they could miss-interpret what you are saying.  The other component of electronic communication is that there is a permanent record of the communication. Think about who else could see this communication and how they could interpret it as well.

Can you give us some examples of language a manager should not use when criticizing an employee?

  • Stay away from extreme language (always, never)
  • Don’t use “loose” descriptions (i.e.  You are frequently late vs. you have been 15-20 minutes late three times in the last three weeks).  Use facts.
  • Don’t use subjective language that points to personal judgments or character attacks.

What other advice or tips can you offer as it relates to language and communication?

  • Practice awareness of your own language and the effect it has on others.  Too often we miss key lessons and learning opportunities because we are too focused on “getting through it” or “just get this over with.”
  • Practice and prepare for key conversations.  Even if you are a seasoned manager, there are seeds of knowledge in your interactions and opportunities to grow with every conversation.
  • When discussing consequences you can use two categories: natural consequences, and imposed consequences.  This helps you to focus behaviors on things that will keep you out of disciplinary actions while still affecting corrective action.
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