Language is a very powerful thing. Words convey not only meaning, but emotions as well.
I have seen individuals (and arguably nations) go to war over words. Therefore, the words you use when dealing with your C-level peers, as well as members of your boards of directors, are very important. Let's explore some words to use and avoid in these interactions:
Cost: When discussing finances, always use the word "investment," never use the word "cost." Cost has the emotional impact of feeling like something that is lost. Even when spent wisely, cost suggests the money is gone and the value was gleaned at a single moment in time. Investment, on the other hand, suggests something that pays dividends and continues to provide a return on the money that was leveraged.
Any three-letter acronym: We in IT do love our acronyms. However, this is a foreign language for most of our peers and stakeholders. When engaging with business people, we should speak the language of business and finance. We should avoid any words or acronyms that only fellow "geeks" understand or care about. I actually fine my staff for using "Geek Speak" when engaging with our clients. Maybe you should too!
"I think...": The words "I think" in the wrong context can suggest a lack of confidence or commitment. Always portray a level of surety and expertise. That doesn't mean you can't express vulnerability. It just means you have to do so in a way that engenders confidence. Like the old commercial for an antiperspirant went: "Never let them see you sweat!"
"We can't...": There is always a way to accomplish an objective. That way may require additional funding, additional time, additional resources, or reprioritization. We can't is a defeatist attitude. "Let's explore alternative ways to accomplish this" suggests that you are open to innovate and rethink the variable involved in reaching a successful outcome.
"No" or "Yes": This may sound a little nutty to you. When I became CIO of the USTA, I found out that my two predecessors combined had not lasted four years! When I inquired as to why people felt this was the case, I was told that my immediate predecessor said "No" to every request. His predecessor said "Yes" to every request, but didn't deliver anything! I always tell my team that the answer to any request is neither "Yes" or "No" but "How." How can we collaborate to get the required support, funding, prioritization, and focus to succeed? The answer is always how!
"It wasn't my/our fault": Nothing shows weakness as a leader more than a lack of accountability. There are indeed times when multiple issues and people contribute to a negative outcome. However, the true leader takes accountability for a problem and conveys a sense of ownership to fix the issue and solve the problem.
Are there any words you would like to add (or subtract) from the list? Comment below.