Who buys Prunes? The Power of Language and Re-framing
As a leader, the language we choose to use will either enhance our ability to lead – or it will take us out in one clean swipe. The words we choose matter!
We coach leaders of all ages in their ability to use language to influence and inspire. As an exercise I ask them, Who buys prunes? Without exception the room erupts with some version of ,”Retired People!” And then I ask them, Why do they buy them? They reliably respond with a giggly, “Because they are constipated!”
Yes, this is a gross generalization of a few generations, and it is a little un-P.C. And yet, it is the connection that comes right along with our idea of prunes.
So after we’ve established that retired people buy prunes, I ask the same group, Who buys Dried Plums? The response? “Hippies and Healthy People!” And, Why do they buy them? “To be healthy! Because dried fruit is good for you!”
Yes! Yes! Dried fruit is very good for you. And, of course, the light bulb goes on. Dried plums are, in fact, prunes. They are the same product. And yet, the words we choose to describe the product determine our attraction to (or away!) from them, our inspiration to act (buy) them, or not.
Just as with the prunes and dried plums, it matters which words we choose to describe a situation or a person, or to give feedback, an opinion, or an observation. It matters because our choice will either open up communication or it will shut it right down. It will either add to our credibility as a leader, or it will bankrupt it. The words we choose will determine our team’s willingness to lean into our ideas and work, and to invest in our leadership…. Or, not!
We can choose to complain about a work assignment – or we can choose to ask better questions to understand its value and necessity. We can choose to blame someone about a situation – or we can choose to have compassion and curiosity about how to resolve the situation. (Or, a little deeper, we can choose to determine our own responsibility and complicity in the situation.) We can choose to ‘try’ to get a project done – or we can choose to commit to getting it done.
It’s all in the re-frame. Since we choose how we talk about something or someone anyway, we may as well frame how we talk about it by choosing words that empower and open up communication. Words that foster learning. Words that foster curiosity and new ideas. Yes, even words that inspire action and accountability.
Albert Mehrabian is probably best known for his studies that suggest only 7% of a message (and likability of the sender) comes from the words we say.
That is 7% we ought to pay very close attention to. Without it, we might end up with prunes when what we really want are dried plums.