Human communication is much more than an exchange of words. It’s about building bridges between people so as to understand our thoughts and emotions. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger maintained that “language is the house of the truth of being“. Every term, every sentence we verbalise contains a host of conscious and unconscious nuances as to why we have chosen them and, moreover, they have the power to sculpt realities, to shape perceptions and to unleash a torrent of feelings in those who hear them.

In the workplace, where constant interaction weaves the fabric of productivity and harmony, the use of words becomes an essential skill for any leader. Especially when it comes to inspiring and motivating their teams.

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The Power of Words in the Workplace

Words can rise up with the force of thunder, commanding authority and respect. Firmness of tone, clarity of message and conviction behind every syllable can establish undisputed leadership. However, that same authority, if not approached with a certain sensitivity, can end up instilling fear, which may end up affecting the receiver and undermining their creativity or efficiency.

A study published in the Academy  of Management Journal found that when people are exposed to hostile communication at work, their performance suffers and they’re less likely to help others. And a new study from Georgetown University found that rudeness in the workplace reduces team performance and collaboration, impairing customer experiences and encouraging higher staff turnover.

But words also have the capacity to appease and empower, to provide reassurance in times of uncertainty… A leader who understands the nuances of language knows that empathy and acknowledgement are as powerful, if not more, than orders and commands. A simple “thank you” or a sincere compliment can fan the flame of motivation and commitment.


“A leader who understands the nuances of language knows that empathy and recognition are as powerful, if not more, than orders and commands”.


In this article we discussed the differences between empowering and disempowering leaders. With excellent communication, you can set the tone for your workplace and make it easier for your team members to understand your work expectations. It can also help you create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable expressing themselves and receiving feedback.


Effective Communication at Work: The Art of Giving Feedback

Judging or correcting the work of others is a fundamental part of being a good manager. However, let’s face it, no one likes to be the one to point out the mistakes of others. We worry that even mild criticism can make someone angry or demoralise rather than motivate them. Moreover, it’s difficult to know what to prioritise and how to make sure the message is clear.

A study by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, described in their book The Progress Principle, offers a revealing insight into motivation at work and the crucial role of feedback.

presentacion equipo trabajo

Amabile and Kramer found that what motivates people most is the feeling of progress. Leaders often think that appreciation and recognition are the main motivators. But, according to their research, they found that the most satisfying days were those when people in the team felt they had made progress on important goals, even if they were only small steps.


“According to a recent study on motivation at work, one of the factors that motivates people the most is the feeling of progress”.


Prioritising progress

So how can a manager keep the team motivated through feedback? If you have multiple areas for improvement, rather than overwhelming your team with suggestions all at once, it is more effective to start with those where they can see immediate progress.

Experts recommend selecting two or three that are manageable and realistic, avoiding both the more complicated and the trivial. This will allow them to experience small victories and develop the confidence to tackle bigger challenges later.

Checking back in with them to see how progress is going is also crucial. This not only offers the opportunity to provide additional support if they’re not progressing as expected, but also reinforces the notion that you’re on their side, willing to help them overcome obstacles.


The importance of listening

Social scientist Therese Huston’s book Let’s Talk identifies simple ways to improve the communication of criticism or negative feedback. After surveying a large number of workers, it turned out that the top five responses were variations of “I wish the other person had listened to me” or “I wish I had been asked my perspective“.

This highlights the importance of listening first and getting the people on your team’s side of the story. Allowing them to express “this is what I would do exactly the same way next time, and this is what I would do differently” can significantly improve the quality of the interaction.

we hear you

Reframing to preserve identities

Another perspective presented by Therese Huston in this Harvard Business Review podcast is the reframing story, which is based on pointing out a mistake or failure by underlining that it’s not a common behaviour in a person’s performance. It’s about saying: “I see you as someone who is very prepared. What happened in this case?

According to Huston, when we receive destructive feedback, our professional identity can be threatened. Someone who perceives themselves as efficient and competent may question themselves when they hear criticism. They may dwell on that one flaw and ignore all their successes.

The aim is to allow the person to maintain their view of themselves while addressing the specific situation. Saying “this is not typical of you” and “what happened in this case?” helps to treat the issue as an eventual and isolated one, preventing its repetition.

Building trust is not only about conveying authority and knowledge, but also about showing empathy and a willingness to understand the other person’s perspective. Asking team members how they would deal with the same situation again can open a constructive dialogue and strengthen the working relationship. In this way, feedback becomes a tool not only for correction, but also for inspiration and motivation.

The key to effective feedback lies in balancing firmness with empathy, prioritising visible progress and building a relationship based on trust and active listening. This approach not only improves individual performance, but also helps foster a more positive and productive work environment.