July 22, 2019

Language Rocks: Harnessing Your Power with Words

three people at meeting smilingWe speak, on average, 7,000 words per day. With this much use, we shouldn’t need more practice. We do.

Effective nonprofit leaders grow their language skills daily. Why? Effective language inspires donations, volunteers, and commitment. Here are three places where nonprofit leaders benefit from improved eloquence.

1. The Knowing What to Do but Not How to Say It

You know what to do. You’re unsure how to say it. For example, clients recently asked me:
  • how to share with a funder that a project was about to receive adverse publicity
  • ways to ask customers for referrals that leave them pleased to be asked
  • tactics to decline a partnership and leave a door open for future work
Most people wing these conversations. Others avoid them. You want to preserve your relationships and your nonprofit’s brand, so plan responses. Pick language that:
  • affirms the other’s value
  • shows how the actions you recommend benefit them
  • outlines the next steps

2. Self-talk that Distracts from Mission

Our self-talk is another place where language rocks. When it comes to self-talk, it’s as if we watch one of two screens in our heads. The screen straight ahead focuses on now. Focus on this TV means that you talk about moving forward, solving challenges, and growing.
The second screen runs a continuous loop of the challenges, threats, and night terrors. Focus on it, and you talk about dangers, fears, and stagnant.
Improve your words and results. Pivoting to the now screen. When you do, the fear screen’s volume shrinks. For more, see Symington’s book, Freedom From Anxious Thoughts and Feelings. It offers a robust framework to quiet your second screen.

3. Reduced Use of Phrases that Diminish Your Power 

Like all sub-groups, nonprofits use stock phrases. Some phrases build. Others destroy. Some phrases arise externally. For example, a New York Times article recently quoted a donor who called the sector “cloudy and bloaty.”
More phrases arise from within the sector. Watch The Most Dangerous Phrase Nonprofit Leaders Useand this video, The Most Destructive Phrase Nonprofit Leaders Use for examples. Each discusses a phrase that reduces your power. What other stock phrases do you hear? Do they build the sector or damage efforts?
Theologian and philosopher Abraham Joshua Herschel wrote, “Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound ends in a deed.” Today, you’ll utter 7,000 words. How will you use your words?
Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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