Want to Change the Culture? Start with the Words You Choose

Posted by Kristin Baird

Over the years there have been numerous articles about the importance of storytelling in shaping organizational culture. When I talk with healthcare leaders about storytelling, I’m often met with looks that say, “Yea, yea, tell me something I don’t know already.” Chances are good that they see storytelling as one person standing up in front of a group and sharing an account of an event and the people involved. That is certainly one example, but I encourage leaders to see storytelling as smaller snippets in daily life. After all, stories are made up of words and the words we choose in daily conversation are significant in shaping the culture.

Word Choice

Awareness of word choices is one crucial element in contributing to culture. Take for example, the manager who makes statements like, “Administration doesn’t want us to…” That statement places administration on one side and the rest of the staff (including the manager making the statement) on the other side. By reframing that statement, the leader can create more unity. He could say, “Our position is that this is what is best for our patients. Here’s why…”   They vs. we or our, are simple, but highly impactful word choices.

Another example of word choices are the extreme or drama words like never or always. When you use drama words that push the conversation to one of the extreme ends of the emotional continuum, you promote more drama. Consider the difference between these two statements. “You are always resisting any change.” Compared to, “There are times when you seem to resist change.”

Your thoughts and your words shape conversations, stories and ultimately the culture.

  1. Does Your Culture Condone this 4-letter Word?
  2. Change the Culture, Change the Patient Experience
  3. Words can Shape an Entire Culture – Use Them Strategically
  4. Culture Change is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
  5. Attention CEOs – Let’s Get Real About the Culture Change Timeline
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