A Peek Into The Leadership Language Toolbox

Have you ever walked away from an interaction shaking your head and wondering what the hell just happened? Figuring out what to say and how to say it is one of the most nuanced and difficult parts of being a leader. If you’re like us, you’ve reflected later on conversations you’ve had and can’t always say that you’re proud of your communication. We’ve made many mistakes and learned many lessons when it comes to communicating as leaders. We’ve created the Leadership Language Toolbox so you can avoid the tough mistakes and start communicating more effectively right away! Here, we are going to go over some tips for tough talks and your essential feedback formula pulled right from the Leadership Language Toolbox!

Tough talk formula:

Replace the word “but” with “and”

Consider the following phrases:

“The report was good but it didn’t have nearly enough visuals” OR “The report was good and we can uplevel it by adding more visuals, should I connect you with Rob in creative?”

When you use the word “but” everything you said prior to that word becomes null and void, no matter how nice and loving it is. We have ALL received “but” feedback, and we all know how bad it sucks. When the leader leads into how great you are, how much they love you, and follows that with the word “BUT,” every nice thing they said gets thrown out the window while you prep yourself for the negative. In order to avoid this feeling use the word “and” instead of “but.” By using “and” the two phases of your statement (often compliment and feedback) are no longer mutually exclusive. The two can feed each other without negating any part of the communication.

Help me understand

From leader to leader- this is the phrase that has impacted us the most in communication with our team. Whenever we are giving corrective feedback or someone brings us bad news or perhaps they’ve made a decision that we don’t agree with, the phrase “Help me understand,” has been a God send in helping us to respond thoughtfully instead of simply reacting.

“Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” Steven Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

By asking the question you allow for the person you are leading to take ownership or explain what is going on, then you can work toward a solution. Here are 3 different examples of how you can implement this ultra-useful tool:

When giving corrective feedback:

“Bryan, help me understand why you’ve been showing up consistently late for the last 2 weeks.”

When someone brings you bad news:

“Jolene, help me understand why the project is delayed by another 3 months.”

When someone makes a decision we do not agree with:

“Andrea, help me understand why you decided to send Javier home early.”

Feedback Formula:

Opportunity vs. Problem

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

-Winston Churchill

Will you be the kind of leader that views arising situations as problems or opportunities for growth and learning?


UGH I cleaned out my inbox before leaving yesterday and come in this morning to 58 UNREAD MESSAGES. I can’t believe I have to deal with this level of communication all day every day.


You know, I just cleaned my inbox to zero last night and this morning, I have 58 new messages to deal with. I’m not being very effective spending so many hours per day in my inbox. At our team meeting today I’ll ask the team for their thoughts on a strategy for organizing the email load. I bet there’s an opportunity here for everyone to benefit from this solution.

As a leader, the opportunity mindset allows for you to more easily separate your emotions from your work and serve your people rather than serving yourself.

3 tips to immediately uplevel your feedback:

  1. “When your mind defaults to “ugh” do your best to instead give it a “hug.” Calm yourself from the initial knee jerk reaction and seek the opportunity.
  2. Catch the language instead of “We have a problem” switch to “We have an opportunity for improvement”
  3. Do your best to respond, not react. “Responding means you are in control of your communication. Reacting allows no time for reflection. When in the transition from problem to opportunity, it’s easy to allow old patterns to react on your behalf.”

Want to become an even bigger expert when it comes to communication? Download our full leadership language toolbox for FREE here! Equipped with the resources in this toolbox, you’ll be ready to nail your next interaction, whether it’s a big “tough talk,” a casual brainstorming session or a full-blown boardroom presentation. The point of strong communication is to influence others while maintaining both credibility and likability. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy. Communication is one of the most important parts of your job. These tools are a guide to help build around your message, to strengthen your authentic communication style and help you succeed! We hope these tools impact your communication as much as they do ours!

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