Your words reveal your confidence

Everything we perceive is influenced by how we see ourselves. For this reason, we need to develop self-awareness—with no filters—to fulfill our potential as leaders.

Here’s a type of filter: When paged in an airport, travelers can pick out their own names from a jumble of other announcements. It’s called selective listening. How we perceive ourselves shapes what we react to, what we see and how we act.

Imagine two executives, A and B, in identical situations. Each delegates an assignment.

Don’t say it like Executive A:

“Mike, XYZ Co. has cut its order from us for the third month in a row. You need to go visit them. I wish I could go, but I’m tied down with emergencies here. Talk to their purchasing agent—uh, what’s her name? Um … here it is … Hailey. Oh, and you’d better see their chief engineer, a nice guy …  his name escapes me at the moment … you can get it from Hailey. But don’t go near Rachel in accounting. She’s tried to make us cut prices before. I’ve got to have answers, Mike. The boss is breathing down my neck. So …”

What’s wrong with this approach? Let us count the ways.

First, the negative tone. “Right now” suggests lack of planning. “Disaster” is worst-case-scenario thinking. “I wish I could go” shows lack of confidence in the employee and a sense of helplessness. Forgetting names indicates that Executive A is neither prepared nor interested, insulting both employee and customer.

Rachel in accounting may, in fact, be the most important person to speak with (not avoid) because she knows what’s happening and there’s a reason, which Executive A never discovered, that prompted her to ask for price cuts in the past. The plea for answers shows panic. And pushing blame upstairs shows weakness.

Do say it like Executive B:

“Tamara, I’m concerned about our relationship with XYZ Co. Its orders from us have fallen off pretty sharply. You know our history there, and you know the people. Will you investigate it for us and find out what’s going on, and why? Let me know if you run into anything you don’t understand or anything else you need from me.”

Executive B is confident of her ability. She doesn’t feel threatened and seems ready to cope with whatever Tamara’s investigation reveals. And she’s willing to wait until the facts are gathered, examined and discussed.

— Adapted from Business Classics, Harvard Business Review.