Team leadership??? and the use of powerful words

Do team leaders know how to influence and persuade. Surprisingly most technical team leads lack substantial knowledge on influencing and persuasion. Most lead by the seat of their pants, oblivious to great tools and best practices.

It is the 5% 80% rule in studies and application.

Technical and engineering studies hardly touch what we define: soft skills, hence the 5% (of courses discuss these important skills)….yet aren’t soft at all.

However 80% (at least) of results in the modern organization requite ‘soft’ aspects.

Of the six soft guides I’ve written, I think the immediate useful concepts to increase your leadership and persuasion skills are NLP words…

These appear in Six secrets of powerful teams

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is an incredibly powerful discipline that enables people to unblock the structures of human communication and human excellence. By doing so, people can think, communicate, and manage themselves and others more effectively. NLP explores the relationships between how we think (neuro), how we communicate (linguistic), and our patterns of behavior and emotion (programs).

Let’s explore two words that are used redundantly in almost every team interaction. These words are mostly negative, yet they are common in team interactions. They create noise in the communication, confuse the message, and carry baggage of ill-considered meanings.


‘Should” has a flavor of admonition, guilt, and manipulation, especially when other people are using it by blurting out-loud a general statement with the word “should.”

For example: “You should always finish what you’re eating and never leave anything on the plate.” Also: “This should have been completed by now.” And yet another: “You should not get up before the manager has left.”

For example, Tina writes:

Tina answers, “We should focus on production levels because this is what is driving the transfer to production; trust me, I’ve been here and have seen these projects many times.”

In this case, Tina is using “should” to reprimand the team and also to have it her way by defining an imaginary rule and enforcing it upon the team. Actually, what Tina is saying is, “I want to focus on production levels.” Many times, people use “should” instead of “I want”; this is the case with parents and children. The admonition of, “You should be nice” is actually saying, “I want you to be nice.”

Observe the power and direct impact of the second sentence as opposed to using “should.”

Tina answers, “I want to focus on production levels because this is what is driving the transfer to production; trust me, I’ve been here and have seen these projects many times.”

People use the word “should” to mask their wish or need. Instead of directly stating what they want, they construct a stipulation without naming a person responsible for carrying it out. In families, we often hear such a “should” sentence: “The lawn should be cut.” This indirect communication can create resentment. The person would be better off asking directly what he wants to happen “Please, can you cut the lawn now?”

Notice that this question can lead into conflict as the other person might rebel and disagree. By using “should,” we are avoiding the conflict between our wishes and the other person’s wishes. The truth is that the conflict is not avoided; rather, because the communication is indirect, it is unclear what the person wants the other person to perform. Thus, the conflict is exacerbated and not mitigated.

Thinking Alert: Monitor the “shoulds” in your teams. They are barriers to effective communication and reduce the potential power of the team.


“Why” carries a sense of blame to it. For example, “Why did you break the glass?” One can see that the usage of “why” is not about receiving an answer but about rebuking for the actual breaking of the glass because there is no good answer for this question.

Ashley, who leads a meeting, wants to regain control.

Ashley tries to gain control back and asks Tina, “Why do you think this is now relevant for our meeting? Let’s try to get back on our planned agenda.”

In this case, Ashley is blaming Tina by asking her the question. Ashley would have been better off saying: “Tina, I would like get back to our agenda. I think these are issues relevant for another meeting.”

The word “why” carries guilt and finger pointing in team communications. It is better that we leave it out of our messages because it doesn’t have any positive impact on what we are saying. Rather, it is clearer to state what we want to achieve or alternatively ask information-gathering questions using the word “how.”

For example, Ashley might ask, “Tina, can you please explain how these figures affect the transfer to operations?”

Notice that while “why” structures a closed ended question, “how” questions are open-ended and investigate the process that led to a certain consequence.

Thinking Alert: The “whys” don’t contribute to clear communication; instead, they add guilt and finger pointing, so it is better to drop them.


These are but two words that we should try not to use, now you know so don‘t ask why.

The above sentence had three more of those NLP words – find them, can you figure out what they create in team interactions?

Feel free to write your reflections below and I’ll be happy to answer!

Find out more in Six secrets of powerful teams and in the free guide Influence and lead.

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