Words That Work

by Michael Kelly, MA

One of the essential principles advocated by outstanding supervisors says we must never leave anyone worse off than we found them, including ourselves. This applies to their leadership acts of mentoring, coaching, counselling and discipline. Unfortunately, many supervisors1 unleash words that have the opposite effect. Let's take a simple example.

Kacey, after listening to an explanation given by Taylor, responds by saying, "You still haven't explained it!" 

How might Taylor feel after hearing this? Perhaps incompetent for having not been able to explain adequately? Taylor might feel singled out by Kacey through the use of the pointing word "you." Either way, Taylor is left feeling bad. 

How could Kacey remedy this? Kacey might say, without apologizing, "I'm not getting it. Could you explain it once more for me?" Notice the absence of the word "you" (no finger pointing) and how responsibility is kept where it belongs. Kacey owns the problem, takes responsibility for it and does not project it onto Taylor.

Here are a few examples drawn from experience. Corresponding corrective suggestions appear in  brackets.2

  • I already told you! (In this case try saying nothing and simply repeat yourself or use an "I" message saying "I'm pretty sure I already mentioned it.")



  1. This article applies to any relationship, be it a spousal, parental, friendship,  etc.
  2. Be sure to check back from time to time as I expand the list.
© 2011  Michael C Kelly