I am not a big sports fan and tend not to use sports analogies in my writing or training. But when you live 20 minutes from a team headed to the World Series, you become, as if by osmosis, a devoted fan. Everyone loves a winning team. But, in order to have a winning team, there must also be a losing team. Now I am pretty sure the Cardinals (they were the other team, right?), must still be outstanding to have made it through 7 games for a chance to win the Pennant (am I even saying this correctly?) However, in the end, to the world, the Cardinals are the losers.
The words we choose have power. They have the power to make someone feel fabulous – “You look beautiful in that shirt.” Or, can be brutally raw and hurtful, “That presentation was lame and a waste of time.”
The word “loser” connotes many images – someone who didn’t try, wasn’t good enough or is a failure. I have personal story concerning power of the word “fail.”
Back in 2003, CBS approached me to be in one of their featured segments on adoption as I was nearing the end of the process of adopting a baby from Belarus. I was given a camera to chronicle my journey to meet my son and bring him home. CBS sent a crew to our town near San Francisco to film us for a day, and voila, our segment appeared on The Early Show back in December 2003.
Sounds great, right?
Well, as I began to watch the show (with the rest of America) I heard the narrator say, “Allison West…after two failed marriages…” I couldn’t hear anything else she said about my need and great desire to be a mom. All I heard was “failed.” I was shocked. Sure, I was acutely aware my marriages didn’t work out (not my fault according to my mother) but I never used the word “failed.” Somehow, that word made me see myself differently – for a short time. Was I a failure? I didn’t think so, but hearing that word made me pause and wonder if the rest of the world would view me that way as well. Ultimately, I decided to not let that word define me.
So back to the Cardinals. They lost a Pennant, but they are not losers. The point is – they failed to meet their goal, but they are not failures or losers. Just as we are not losers if a marriage or job doesn’t work out. As HR professionals, we need to guide managers and supervisors to use words correctly, deliberately and with integrity. Words can empower. Instead of saying to someone – let’s look at your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. You can say let’s look at ways that I can help you improve your performance to meet your goals. By taking away the word “weaknesses” we can turn that sentence around so it is creating a more positive message. Words have power.
On a personal note, this past Sunday was the 9th anniversary of the adoption of my son, Tyler. The love of my life. For those who might be interested in seeing that CBS special I referenced above, here is the link. Just fast forward over the failed marriages part…