Denise Stein, Executive Director at Art of Leadership in Detroit spoke yesterday about the power of language. Many of us working in the nonprofit sector have found ourselves, on more than one occasion, facing barriers and conflicts that make it difficult for us to reach the goals we have set for ourselves and/or our organizations. As a result, sometimes, we may hear ourselves complaining to friends or co-workers. In my mind, the truth is- not all of those complaints are unjustified. In fact, I would argue that many of them probably are justified. Sometimes you have every right to be frustrated and often getting those frustrations out can be a very healthy and positive way to help yourself move forward. The problem, however, is that when repeated, those complaints can actually be much more powerful than we may realize.
Sometimes when talking about our causes, our words focus on the barriers and conflicts, a.k.a, the problems that need to be addressed. If we find ourselves spending more time talking about the problem as opposed to the solution, we can really hold ourselves back from moving forward. If the status quo needs to be changed, we should focus our language around our plans and goals for the future instead of the problem(s).
Denise said, “The language of complaint tells us, and others, what we cannot stand. The language of leadership/commitment tells us, and others what we stand for.” We can help reframe our own mindsets by focusing our language around what we want to see, instead of focusing on what we see but don’t like. By focusing on our goals and commitments, we empower ourselves to act on those commitments, instead of getting lost in frustration.
We have all heard the phrase ‘think outside of the box.’ In fact, it has probably become a little cliché at this point. No one really wants to think like everyone else. We all want to think of ourselves as ‘out of the box’ thinkers, at least, I do. An important thing to remember is that ‘thinking outside of the box’ doesn’t always refer to a collective cultural box that we all subscribe to. ‘Thinking outside of the box’ doesn’t always mean thinking differently from this group or that person. Often, it is our own boxes that we need to think outside of. More often than not, it is our own constraints and perceived limitations that we need to branch away from.
By reshaping the way that we talk and learning to constantly challenge our own ‘inside of the box’ thinking, we can position ourselves to make a much bigger impact in our communities. Never underestimate the power that the words we use can have on our own perceptions. And learn to take mental notes of our own repetitious behaviors. If we learn what ‘in the box thinking’ really looks like for ourselves, we might actually have a much better shot at learning how to think outside of it. And if we constantly remind ourselves of what we're working for, we will find ourselves empowered by motivation, instead of feeling burnt out and/or overwhelmed.