Empowering Language

17 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008

See all articles by James G. Clawson

James G. Clawson

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

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Abstract

This note describes ways in which managers can learn to empower their employees through the way they communicate with them. The note is intended as a thought piece before doing skill-development exercises on the various approaches outlined in the note, including listening, clarity, invitations, and descriptions. Language is our primary means of communication. It constrains our thinking, reflects our basic values, and is the most common medium for the exchange of our thoughts and beliefs. The language we speak allows us to convey certain thoughts and causes us to be confused about how to convey other thoughts. Indeed, language can prohibit us from grasping and understanding certain concepts and can make other concepts available to us. With its power as the central vehicle for communicating goals, thoughts, plans, instructions, requests, and so on, in business settings, language is perhaps the most important management tool we have.

Excerpt

UVA-OB-0400

EMPOWERING LANGUAGE

Language is our primary means of communication. It constrains our thinking, reflects our basic values, and is the most common medium for the exchange of our thoughts and beliefs. The language we speak allows us to convey certain thoughts and causes us to be confused about how to convey other thoughts. Indeed, language can prohibit us from grasping and understanding certain concepts and can make other concepts available to us. With its power as the central vehicle for communicating goals, thoughts, plans, instructions, requests, and so on, in business settings, language is perhaps the most important management tool we have.

Despite the central, pervasive role that language plays in management and leadership, management education often gives little thought or attention to how we can use language effectively. Some schools emphasize the importance of language in communications classes or in case discussions, but many apply few or no resources to the study and teaching of effective language use as it relates to practical managerial situations.

Would-be managers and leaders often, sometimes unwittingly, abuse effective language principles and, in so doing, undermine their ability to manage and lead. They may use phrases that they learned at home, at school, in their neighborhood, or in their work that are counterproductive to their attempts to motivate, explain, describe, or evaluate. When this happens, miscommunication, misunderstanding, and confusion at a minimum, can occur. At worst, misusing language can cause outcomes and effects exactly opposite of those intended. In short-term crisis situations or over the long haul, language can make or break a person's credibility and organizational effectiveness.

In the last quarter of the 21st century, “empowerment” as a concept and as a management technique has gained widespread attention. This interest stems, in part, from the growing realization worldwide that people—all kinds of people, including workers and employees—refuse to be enslaved and held powerless. On the contrary, during this period, we have observed around the world—on continents, in countries, and in organizations—people demanding to be seen, to be recognized, to be treated with dignity, to be listened to, and to participate in decisions that shape their lives.

. . .

Keywords: communication process, human resources, management of, interpersonal behavior, management communication, management skills

Suggested Citation

Clawson, James G., Empowering Language. Darden Case No. UVA-OB-0400, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1281222

James G. Clawson (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/faculty/clawson.htm

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