Change and challenge can impact on your words

Christina Aguilera

Last week I delivered a 1.5hr session on confidence to a group of 70 leaders at an insurance business in London.

They were gathering together after an 18-month period of enforced change. Staff had been let go, belts had been tightened and a lot of short notice and quite harsh changes had been implemented.

They were battered and bruised but the company was showing green shoot signs of profit and recovery. As their CEO said ‘we need to go from fire-drill to normalcy’. As such it was my job to energise the room at the start of the day, and lay out some ideas for healing and repair.

One area that that I focus on is the language we adopt when we are fearful and under threat. Our words become negative and they can undermine our confidence. I regularly see negative self-talk occurring in individuals and in company culture. It can be pernicious and set the tone for how we operate in the future.

The great philosopher Christina Aguilera tells us: “words can’t bring you down”. But in my experience, the opposite is true.

When I joined the BBC in the mid-90s the organisation had been through dramatic, and poorly communicated, transformation. Bitterness was visceral and the older staff didn’t hold back with their disgruntlement. They opined to recent hires like me, disparaging any new initiative (good or bad) that came their way and generally folded their arms and rolled their eyes at anything and everything.

It was toxic to the point that Greg Dyke, the new director general at the BBC in 2000, began his reign with an ultimatum to his troops: stop moaning or go elsewhere.

He was a confident leader who called out the elephant in the room: the wholesale negative self-talk in the organisation.

Confidence is at the heart of business and personal success and should not be left to chance. So, if you’re coming out of a difficult time, take your negative self-talk and show it the door – talk about the green shoots instead.

Green shoots