Power words

An activity for managers and leaders

Objective: Learn how to choose words that build alignment and inspire teams.

Prerequisites:

  • This activity pairs well with the Building Alignment portion of the Work of Leaders assessment, but also works on its own.
  • Before the training session, ask leaders to read the Harvard Business Review article Find the Right Words to Inspire Your Team.
  • Leaders should choose a short piece of communication they are working on or have already used and bring it to the training.

Materials: Lists of power words to display on the screen or on tables during the work session

Time required: 45-60 minutes

Instructions:

  1. Review the main points of the Harvard Business Review article you asked learners to read ahead of time. Article summary:

    It’s important to understand that when you, as a leader, communicate with your team, using weaker words weakens your message and blunts your ability to inspire people. It’s not enough to just throw thoughts out there and hope for the best. You need to actively recommend ideas and assert their worthiness in all of your communications. For example, consider these “power words”: “I’m proposing (not “sharing”) an idea that will make our process more efficient.” “I’m suggesting (not “sharing”) a new logo that better conveys our brand message.” “I’m recommending (not “sharing”) a campaign to make our workplace more diverse.” Ultimately, audiences respond more actively to big points than to small words, but thoughtful leaders need to assess both, knowing that the more powerfully they come across — even in small ways — the greater impact they have on the people they hope to inspire.
  2. Ask learners to get out the communication pieces they brought. Pair leaders up and ask them to recommend edits to each other's pieces. Share the list of words at the bottom of this page to assist in enhancing their language.
  3. Remind leaders of the steps recommended in the article:

    1. Choose the Most Valuable Verb
      Also look for adverbs and replace them with stronger verbs. So turn "move quickly" into "race," "dash," or "accelerate," for example.

    2. Don’t “Share”
      Use power words instead.

    3. Audit Your “Ands”
      Remove descriptors and content to be more compelling.

  4. If these leaders have also been through an Everything DiSC training, ask them to consider what words can be used to best engage each DiSC style in their audience. For example, leaders may want to use fewer emotional or “pep talk” words when communicating with C-style employees, focusing instead on the concrete impact of the work. For D-style employees, leaders should craft brief, impactful, solutions-focused statements that avoid generalizations and repetition.
  5. Finally, have pairs share a few of the changes they made or phrases they struggled with.

Additional tips to share

Edit out jargon unless it connects you to your audience. Be sure that if you use a term you're using it in the same context your audience is hearing it. (The first time I heard my management professor talk about OB, I thought she meant obstetrician, not operational behavior.)

Avoid the passive voice.
Passive: This report was reviewed by the leadership team before they asked me to share it with you today.
Active: The leadership team reviewed the report I'm bringing to your attention today.

Don't forget the power of questions. They can engage the listener.

People love to hear their own name. They will also respond to the name of their team, department, division, or city.

Powerful words and phrases

Many of these words have proven their value to marketers, encouraging people to take action. They can also be used in other contexts.

Always motivating

  • You, your, yours
  • Because

To generate excitement

  • Announce, announcing
  • Introduce, introducing
  • Improve, improved
  • Amaze, amazing
  • Revolutionize, revolutionary
  • Stir, stirring
  • Enliven
  • Awake, awaken
  • Hurry
  • Hasten
  • Ignite
  • Transform, transformed
  • Discover, discovered
  • New, newly
  • Extraordinary
  • Powerful
  • Inspirational, inspiring

To encourage community and teamwork

  • We, our, ours, us
  • Join us, join your colleagues
  • Become a member
  • Come along
  • Bond, bind
  • Knit
  • Unite, united
  • Together
  • Jointly
  • Shared purpose
  • Collaborate, collaborative
  • Connect, connected
  • Belong, belonging
  • Collective

To highlight cause-and-effect

  • Accordingly
  • Results in, as a result
  • Because
  • Cause, caused by
  • Consequently
  • Due to
  • For this reason
  • Since
  • Therefore
  • Thus

To imply exclusivity

  • Exclusive
  • Become an insider
  • Be one of the few, you are one of only
  • Before anyone else
  • Be the first, you are the first
  • Only available to you, your team, top performers like you
  • By invitation
  • Prioritize, priority
  • Advance, advanced
  • Premier
  • Ultimate
  • Upgrade, upgraded
  • Surpass, surpassed

To reassure

Of course, these work best when you have already built up trust through such actions as remaining open, seeking counsel, exchanging perspectives, being receptive, and proving one's trustworthiness.

  • Authentic
  • Endorse, endorsed by
  • Trust, trusted
  • Respect, respected
  • Protect, protected
  • Safeguard, safety
  • Test, tested
  • Verify, verified
  • Prove, proven
  • Benefit
  • Secure
  • Preserve
  • Protect, protective
  • Sustain, sustained
  • Advocate
  • Help
  • Promote
  • Reduce
  • Improve
  • Build upon
  • Heartfelt
  • Confident, confidence
  • Resolve
  • Agree
  • Thank
  • Acknowledge

More words to persuade

  • Challenge
  • Compare
  • Propose
  • Recommend
  • Assert
  • Explore
  • Profit
  • Learn
  • Understand
  • Create
  • Accomplish
  • Achieve
  • Attain
  • Best
  • Worst
  • Essential

Additional resources