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Change your language and change their thinking

Our language both reflects our thinking and affects our thinking.

By changing our language we can change our own thinking as well as the thinking of those we lead and we can influence how people around us perceive us.

The language we use becomes associated with us and more importantly for a leader reflect qualities that will be attributed to us. A good task would be to take an inventory of your language to gauge this. Look at your emails first, and then record a meeting or lesson (with permission of course) to really research your lexicon and the image you are creating.

Just small changes in our language will also allow us to have more influence on those we lead. Some simple changes can make us more motivational and boost staff productivity. 

  1. Always use positive language.

Avoid using negative adjectives as your listener will attribute them to you. For example, if you complain about the headteacher being critical and unsupportive, your team will start thinking you are critical and unsupportive.

That negativity then filters through to your team and their attitude to their work as well as their beliefs about the school. 

  1. Choose your questions to elicit productive responses

The most common question we tend to use is ‘why’ yet it is incredibly unhelpful as ‘why’ questions elicit excuses and also attribute blame.

If you substitute ‘why’ with ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions,  they provide the other party the opportunity to give reasons and descriptions. Not only does it require you to be more precise in your listening and reframe your thinking slightly, which benefits your understanding and leadership, it also means your team are more likely to accept responsibility for their actions and look for a solution.

For example instead of, ’Why are our results so low this year?’ which is confrontational and invites excuses, try instead ‘What are the pinch points on our results profile?’

It also means your questions are focussed on finding a solution. 

  1. Avoid ‘butting’

That tiny word ’but’ is so powerful and easily creeps into our speech. It has the capability to immediately deflate us as we all know that there’s bad news coming. If you use it after you have just made a positive and supportive statement it will undermine what you have said and deem it irrelevant.

For example, ‘You did really well on with Year 9 last month, but I know you can do better’ is not heard as praise.

If you replaced that tiny word ‘but’ with the tiny word ‘and’ instead, you will find it completely changes the impact of your statement.

‘You did really well with Year 9 last month and I know you are going to do even better this month’ is much more motivating.

It is the person who immediately manages you who has the greatest impact on you in the workplace.

Research shows that middle leaders are key to promoting the school ethos and therefore changing the language of your middle leaders would improve motivation and could be one small key to driving results in your school. 

If you would like further training on how our language can impact on our environment and change our outcomes, message me here on LinkedIn or email me at

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