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Words to avoid in leadership communication

- By Dwaipayan, 01 June 2021 | 5 MIN READ


Successful leaders use communication as an essential competency to build trusting relationships, align team members around a vision, take the lead for necessary change, and drive action. Communication entails verbal, non-verbal, and spontaneous insightful delivery and receiving of messages. In favor of that, the communication process typically involves five critical steps.

Source: the transmitter of the message who is communicating

Encoding: the way a sender builds a message into an easily understood format that can be sent and received. This step necessitates the sender to know their audience and convey their message clearly and to the point to support understanding.

Channel: how you deliver your message (i.e., verbally through a meeting, phone calls, video conferencing, written, emails, memos text, and social media).

Decoding: It is how the receiver actively attends to a message to ensure accurate transmission and interpretation.

Receiver: Receives the message and brings their understanding, experience, feelings, and histories that impact how a message is received.

Any gaps, errors in these stages can lead to a critical breakdown in the communication cycle. It can destroy relationships, hurt trust, and contribute to adverse impacts on business outcomes. In medicine, law enforcement, education, and almost every profession, communication failures lead to lasting negative impacts.

The best leaders exercise these five steps in a way that leaves their teams feeling heard, recognized, and valued. Leaders have a responsibility to ensure to accomplish the communication goals.

Effective communication is tricky for a variety of reasons. Could be our absence of knowledge around cultural differences, as well as human factors such as stress, anxiety, angst, and communication skills, all play a role in the impending breakdown of communication.

There are several things to keep in mind to avoid communication breakdown.

Avoid words that are negative in nature

Avoid words that create a negative emotional reaction no matter what the intent behind the word. We undoubtedly do not need to eliminate all these words, but carefully deeming your purpose, tone, and the desired reaction can leave others frustrated.


“Why did you do that?” “Why didn’t you just do this?” “Why wouldn’t you just . . .?”

Using a “why” cause people to become defensive, guarded, and feel they need to justify their actions. While at times this is the most appropriate word to bring forth, be cautious about when and how you use it and pay attention to the reaction in others.


This word is problematic when we use it in the context of people. For example, “David is just our assistant,” “You need to just figure it out,”

The word diminishes the role, effort, and value of others. Leaders who carelessly use this language risk diminishing confidence and value amongst their team members.


The word “but” is equally disappointing “You did a great job, but” “Sorry I'm late, but” or “I wanted to help, but.” When we offer a compliment, and immediately use a but, the listener only hears the criticism that follows.

Better if we replace the word with instead. This simple switch will elevate how people feel about your comments and feedback. Try it.

Be Cautious when using Idioms

While idioms seem helpful to make a point, there is also a significant risk associated. Idioms differ as per the context ethic, cultural, racial, or religious idioms are not appropriate to use today.

The words that we have discussed matter especially in a leadership role where our teams regularly react and listen closely to what we share. Time to pay attention to the reactions you receive when speaking and just delete the words and phrases from your “memory dictionary” that are spurring a negative response. 



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