One Word Can Change Everything
Updated: Sep 12
Sometimes one word can signify much, whereas many words can signify nothing.
In B2B tech, there is a preference for wordiness and a tendency to write and speak in abstractions. We believe using more words shows how knowledgeable and smart we are. We’ve been told this is how to get more prestige, more respect. And there is some truth in this.
However, we’ve also sat in a boardroom and quickly worked out the person with the most authority: it’s usually the individual that doesn’t say much and when they do, they use fewer words. Influential people, whether in management or not, know how to make every word count. They weigh up their words carefully.
This got me thinking, Dear Reader, what if we took the concept of using fewer words to the nth degree?
What power could we attain from wielding a single word?
There are many examples, but today, I’d like to share five single words that are particularly potent in the unpredictable continually changing world of B2B tech, as they help us be more human yet resilient, and be more confident yet humble.
1. OKAY (When you want to listen without prejudice)
I discovered this seemingly ordinary word in coach training as a way to respond neutrally to something a person is saying. If you respond with “okay” to the person speaking, it signals that you’re listening and appreciating their perspective while not agreeing or disagreeing. Since I discovered, “okay” as a way to navigate difficult or stressful conversations, it’s helped me to not get into pointless arguments. What’s been amazing about using this one word even if I strongly disagree with the other party, is they suddenly become less adamant about their opinion and either calm down or make room for my point of view. I’ve also noticed that when I say “okay” it keeps me composed because I don’t feel I’m compromising my position; I’m just acknowledging the other person’s right to theirs. Try it, because just saying the word “okay” will make you and the other person feel okay even if the topic is contentious.
2. GOOD (When you need to deal with a sudden dilemma)
Next time someone comes to you with a story about a disastrous situation, or they admit to making a terrible mistake, don’t get angry and start yelling. Instead say with relish, “Good!” This will alter your state from anger and fear to one of rational calmness. It will also save precious time as the other person won’t be ensnaring you in every detail of the story about the situation. You don’t need to wallow with them in the disaster or mistake. Your job is to help fix the problem. Also, when you respond with, “Good!”, you’re signalling that the problem isn’t as bad as it looks (even if it is) and that it’s solvable. If the person coming to you is a direct report, saying, “Good!”, will also interrupt that individual’s state and change it from, “I’m in trouble, woe is me, all is lost, my life is over” to “Okay, what next?”
3. YES (When you want to try something new)
Repeating this word with feeling and power can alter your state from unsure to confident and excited. Say, “YES!” when you want to move forward but you’re afraid to start the new role, meet your new team, boss or client. Practise saying “YES!” to yourself somewhere private. Say it loudly, say it with gusto, use your hands, repeat it several times. Saying, ‘YES!’ emphatically to someone who has asked you to do something for them, is also potent and better than the bland, “sure” or even the neutral, “okay”. Saying “YES!” over again will help propel you into unchartered territory or give you the impetus to boldly act on an inspiring idea.
4. NO (When you want to stop being a people-pleaser)
If you’re a people-pleaser or the person that shoulders too much responsibility, it’s time to start saying, “NO”. You don’t have to explain yourself either like, “I can’t do this because…”, or “I won’t do this because”, just stand your ground and say with feeling, “NO”. Say it enough times and eventually, people will either respect your boundaries or you’ll feel the need to leave your job or role forthwith. So, if you’re being pulled from pillar to post, practise saying “NO” with feeling for 10 minutes somewhere private just before you meet with the demanding boss or needy client. Getting your power back by saying “NO” when people are sucking your energy dry means you can say “Yes!” to what you want.
5. SORRY (When you want to show genuine contrition)
We all make mistakes. The more creative you are, and the more you’re willing to try new things and collaborate on projects, the more mistakes will be made. It’s the fastest and best way to learn. However, some mistakes hurt. It’s important to own up if it was your mistake. A half-hearted apology or a long-winded explanation won’t get you respect. But a simple, “sorry” will. Say it, then shut up and wait to see how the other person responds. It happened to me once where I stuffed up, and the CEO went ballistic. He kept shouting how this mistake made him look bad in front of the board. I kept saying, “sorry” and I meant it. Eventually, he calmed down, took a breath giving me the opportunity to say, “I’m going to fix this.” Without a goodbye, he hung up. I immediately went into high gear to fix the problem and kept his respect and goodwill.
The above examples show that you don’t need to talk a big game or use fancy phrases to communicate in the complex world of tech, genuinely and confidently.
The important thing is to say these words with feeling, with the right mindset and always holding a positive intention. Repeat them enough in the proper context and situation and their ability to help you better traverse business relationships and your career might surprise you.