Small Words

We listen to lots of speakers, trainers, coaches writers and managers. Many of them use big words, business jargon and technical jargon to impress or bamboozle their audience.

This blog post looks at the small, everyday words that have the biggest impact. I’m thinking of the modern workplace as I write this, but really, they work anywhere.

Words That Manage

First of all, let’s look at words that manage.


  • Recent research suggests that “hello” is declining in the office, particularly when people arrive in the mornings (something I noticed when visiting workplaces as a contractor). The author of an article I read this week suggested that this does two things: dehumanises everyone and makes it much more difficult to approach that person to ask if the report is ready for the meeting (because your first words of the day didn’t even include a simple greeting).
  • Saying hello simply acknowledges another human (something particularly important if you’re in a leadership position), provides an introduction to some friendly interaction, for example “did you get the kids’ bikes ready for your trip?”. It lets people know you see them, you respect them and you’re approachable. It sounds basic, but how many people do you know take time to say a proper hello?


  • When a manager begins with “let’s”, you know you’re listening to someone who is attempting to lead a team, not merely assign them tasks. You can tell the workplaces where people feel part of a supported team. They’re busy with lots of real communication about work, not braincell-zapping, reality TV.
  • Workplaces where there is no “let’s” are instead full of command statements “Get me that”, “Work on this now”). These places are quiet the cortisol is palpable.

“It’s OK”

  • I made a mistake on a client’s report recently. Though the mistake was not fixable, there was no big drama. This client is professional, so I was not expecting drama. But, when I confessed (mortified), they simply said “it’s OK, we’re all human”. (There wasn’t even a parent-style “well, don’t do it again”. They trusted me enough to know not to do it again.
  • Adults who make everyday mistakes in the workplace do not need correction, as long as they ‘ve understood, apologised and done what they could to correct it.


  • When you acknowledge small and large actions (even when no third party is around to witness it) it delivers respect to the recipient.
  • It encourages similar behaviour. Children are not the only creatures that can be conditioned to different (better) behaviour by positive reinforcement!
  • Further, it models good manners to other members of the team. Who knows, someone may even reciprocate one day

“Well done”

  • Have you been watching the UK TV series from Bear Grills, the Island? I’ve noticed that island inhabitants particularly females of an aggressive nature tend to respond well to an older person telling them “well done”. Perhaps all they need is some recognition, not more aggro. It’s not rocket science, is it?
  • When was the last time your manager singled you in front of the team for a task or project well delivered? Is undeserved censure instead the default? If so, it’s probably time to leave. You can’t change the culture of an organisation, but you can choose to get out of it.

Words That Assert

Managers and team members alike can benefit from words that assert.


  • Notice my “no” finishes with a full-stop. Our Assertiveness Programme includes a section on why no should rarely be followed with an explanation or excuse. Someone will always try to solve it for you.
  • It’s a shocker. In many cultures, we’re socially conditioned to please, to make everyone like us. “No” is not about being liked. It’s about drawing a line in the sand.


  • When you need to know when something is going to happen, it’s a good idea to ask the question as simply as possible, for example “When will the project move to Stage 2?”. Clear questions, with as few words as possible, elicit the best answers.
  • It lets the person know that your time is important, but that you also recognise that things take time. We were approached in the last few months by someone who wanted to know how when a website content project would be finsihed (with zero input). Make sure your “when” is said in a context where you’re supplied that person as much information as they need to know how long something will take.

Words That Inspire

And, finally, do your words inspire? I’m not talking on the level of a leader such as Gary Vaynerchuk. Just everyday stuff.

“I got it wrong, sorry”

  • Leaders and others in positions of authority can inspire by admitting their mistakes. It lessens the gap between them and their management team.
  • It reveals confidence and poise. It takes someone relaxed enough with themselves that they can confess they messed up. (Only the chronically insecure insist they don’t make mistakes.)
  • Crucially though, this also opens the door for others to admit to their infractions, leaving room for your team to grow in confidence and professional competence.

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out”

  • Our experience of listening to trainers and coaches in particular, is that the professional ones are OK with revealing their lack of knowledge, even in their own topic. Only narcissists insist on maintaining a fa√ßade of omnipotence.
  • The very best stand out because they get back to you. We spoke to several suppliers recently, did not promise to hire them for anything in particular, and yet one they rang back later with additional information (something they promised, but experience has taught me not to expect). Guess who we’ll hire?

“Are you OK?”

  • We’ve all seen someone upset in the workplace, whether because of trying personal circumstances or because of something that happened at work. The kindest way to deal with it is to get that person somewhere private and ask “are you OK?”. Why? Because it ‘s the human thing to do.
  • Yet often we see it’s opposite: people are ignored, dismissed as emotional (as if that was a bad thing) or punished. That’s the inhuman thing to do. And from a managerial point of view, does not solve anything. Lead from the front. Stand out by ditching the outdated alpha management style of aggressive, rapid decision-making and fierce communication style. Your compassion and empathy show you’re human too. And, that makes for a much more compelling leader.

What small words do you use that have mighty impact? Add them into the comments below, letting us know the context and why you think they work so well.

And, if you need with enabling your team to use words that have a big impact, contact us on 0845 527 0474 or