• December 2010

The Importance of Choosing Your Words Carefully

By Angela Sontheimer
Managing Director
The Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg

This month I’d like to have you think about words.

No matter what language you speak, words are one of the many ways we communicate our thoughts, ideas, biases, and beliefs. They help us get our point across, help us express our emotions and, ultimately, help us get our way.

It’s probably not a surprise that men and women communicate very differently. Research shows that the average man utters about 14,000 words a day, while the average woman speaks between 21,000 and 24,000 words per day. That’s a lot of words.

But the quality of one’s words is what differentiates a leader from someone who is just talking a lot.

I think back to November 19, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and delivered some of the most powerful words ever spoken.

In just 272 words, he gave us one of the most precious public documents that I know of—the Gettysburg Address. (See below.)

Lincoln chose his words carefully, and revised and finished his seminal speech here in the Wills House, where I am privileged to work each day.

Working internationally

At the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, we work with many large national firms, but we also work with international organizations.

What fascinates me is that even if someone communicates in English, their thoughts, ideas, and cultures are often quite different from ours. This makes me take a step back and think even more intently about the power of my words.

Am I communicating effectively? Am I offending without knowing it? Am I being thoughtful and purposeful? Am I being respectful?

As someone who works daily with leaders, I understand the importance of taking the time to consider what we say—before we say it. After all, communicating clearly is the goal of anyone in a leadership position.

Do you choose your words carefully?

Do you rewrite and revise—even if it is just an email message? Do you think about what you mean before you say it? Do you consider the impact of your words—or do you just blurt out whatever is on your mind without considering how it will be heard, understood, and responded to by others?

I suggest that we all follow Lincoln’s example and try to create concise, powerful documents. I encourage you to revise and refine until you have created a statement that truly gets your point across.

Try it. It’s harder to do than you may think. But if you want to be an effective leader it is critical.


About Angela Sontheimer

Angela is managing director of Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, where she is responsible for overseeing operations, marketing, and curriculum design. She is a graduate of Gettysburg College and holds a master’s degree in leadership and liberal studies from Duquesne University.

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