More than words

Rosanna Machado | September 30, 2021


Earlier this year when I started swimming drills in the pool, I found it very intimidating as every set of exercises had a load of words I didn’t understand – there were very few that explained what you had to do and there was an assumed level of experience. I was already battling with imposter syndrome, and this served to re-enforce my fears and it took me a couple of weeks to push myself to research and find something that explained things to me in plain English. I am sure that I am not alone – how often have you been in a meeting when acronyms are used but who wants to be the one to ask for a definition in front of peers? Often, most people are in the same boat, and they are grateful when someone else asks the question!

And it’s not just about complex language – other times language can trigger something in us. Take creativity – I truly believe that everyone is creative, but creativity is often associated with certain departments in companies and if you’re not in that department you may not feel like you have ‘permission to be creative.’ Sometimes tweaking language so that it feels less daunting and more inclusive can help to achieve a better result.

In all of these instances, the words are triggering a fear in us – fear of looking stupid, fear of the unknown, fear of ‘getting it wrong’, fear of failure. And yet if we have the courage to step forward and throw an idea into the ring or ask for a definition and show some vulnerability then it will be an enriching experience where we learn about ourselves and can grow. And the anticipation is often much worse than the actual thing itself!

It is up to us to create safe supportive environments where people feel they can ask questions and where they can fail. It is about choosing the language and the way we communicate. A spontaneous brainstorm may work for some people, but other personality types may want time to reflect and formulate ideas beforehand so allowing for everyone to participate fully will help. As a manager, showing your own vulnerability about what you don’t know will help to create that culture. As Susan David says, “Abandon the idea of being fearless. Instead walk directly into your fears, with your values as your guide, towards what matters to you. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is fear walking.”