Home > Favorite Article of the Week, Professional Communication > Getting from “we can’t” to “we can”

Getting from “we can’t” to “we can”

In  their recent article, Use Language to Shape a Creative Culture, the authors Tom and David Kelley explore how language can shape organizational culture.

In the article, the authors provide anecdotal evidence of how to move from statements like “we can’t do that” and “That will never work” to “how might we.” Three powerful words.

According to the authors:

The “how” suggests that improvement is always possible. The only question remaining is how we will find success. The word “might” temporarily lowers the bar a little. It allows us to consider wild or improbable ideas instead of self-editing from the very beginning, giving us more chance of a breakthrough. And the “we” establishes ownership of the challenge, making it clear that not only will it be a group effort, but it will be our group.

From my perspective, the takeaways are:

  • Seemingly small factors can be important in shaping an organization

  • Our words and our actions are always on display for co-workers, supervisors, vendors, outsiders, and customers. Never thought of organizations as a collection of voyeurs and exhibitionists!

  • I suspect the use of language in organizations is under examined

  • “I can’t” or “we can’t” are some of the worst words we can use.

  • Shift focus from the negative to the positive

In truth, I have never thought much about the importance of the language that is used in an organization, but suspect I will now.

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