Words matter, so watch what you say

TEXAS A&M (US) — How we experience change is largely dependent on the words used and how they are communicated to us, according to a new study.

Employees are often left feeling frustrated during times of change because supervisors are unable to communicate properly, says Kevin Barge, professor of communication at Texas A&M University.

When people are conscious of the effect words can have on others, a smooth transition is more likely. “It gets us thinking about the kinds of relationships we want to build with people and what kind of identity we want to create.”

The study appears in the journal Human Relations.

Barge uses the example of a chair of a nonprofit organization who issues an edict to his employees not to discuss the recent termination of the director.

Although the communication is clear, it creates problems in the organization because it casts employees as being untrustworthy and in an inferior position to management.

“Most approaches to organizational change emphasize the importance of providing employees clear and accurate information regarding the change,” Barge says. “The messages also have identity and relational implications that must be given attention.”

Barge suggests using language that creates a collaborative, cooperative work environment emphasizing all members of the organization are in the situation together, that no one is inferior, and that everyone can be trusted.

“How we communicate matters. It’s more than getting your point across clearly. It’s much more about what kinds of identities and relationships you invite or create when you talk,” he says.

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