Stronger Through Adversity | Choose Words Wisely

Thank you for joining me for this series titled Stronger Through Adversity. The book by the same name is based on conversations I’ve had with more than 140 global leaders as they navigate through COVID-19.

If you’ve been following this series, you know the last three posts have been about communication (they were titled “Listen Beyond Words,” “Seek Carefully,” and “Speak Truthfully“). This cluster of posts is reflective of how leaders who participated in the book emphasized leadership listening and messaging – especially during the crisis.

The “choose words wisely” section of Stronger Through Adversity reminds me of insights shared by Buddha when he said, “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”

In conversations with leaders like Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon, Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, Matt Renner, President of Microsoft, and Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA, there were several consistent themes about thoughtful communication. Here is a cliff notes version of some of them:

1) The most common mistake when it comes to messaging is to under-communicate especially during a crisis.

2) Frequent communication doesn’t mean haphazard messaging, and it’s possible to over communicate.

3) Words can inspire resilience or worsen the crisis.

Linda Rutherford, Chief Communication Officer of Southwest Airlines, summarizes all three of these themes well in Stronger Through Adversity by noting:

“In times of crisis, people get anxious and crave information. So not only do we need to communicate more often, we must do it in a multi-channel way and be inclusive. At Southwest, that means engaging a variety of voices starting with our CEO.”

Conversely, Linda warned against cluttered and purposeless messaging. She noted, “If you aren’t organized, you can easily create confusion and distrust through your messaging. That distrust can escalate quickly, given how fast information changes. All communications must be aligned. Marketing, operations, and your communication teams need to stay in sync as they coordinate messages to their respective groups—customers, the media, and employees. That aligned messaging is something we work on 24 hours a day. Collaboratively, we are looking at each new communication to make sure it is purposeful, well-timed, congruent, and relevant for the audience to which it is directed.”

Leaders in Stronger Through Adversity recommend having team members from diverse backgrounds write, edit, and present text-based, videotaped, and live communications to ensure inclusivity. They also suggest being sensitive to gender references of binary she/he pronouns. They emphasized the importance of evaluating and rooting out unconscious bias from messages. Those biases typically are associated with race, ethnicity, nationality, age, socioeconomic background, and/or religion.

As leaders, we should consider the wisdom of Robert Frost regarding speaking with purpose. Frost noted, “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.”

Conversely, we should remember the words of Mother Teresa about how the words we choose have lasting power. She observed, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”

I would love to understand how you have and are choosing the cadence and content of your messaging. Please reach out to me here and we will find time for a conversation.

If you would like to learn more about Stronger Through Adversity and get your special signed 40% off pre-order offer, head to

Until next time, may you be Stronger Through Adversity by choosing words wisely.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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