Four little words that have a huge impact

The impact of your words is huge. In fact, it is so big that it could even be one of the main reasons a business leader succeeds or fails

Four little words that have a huge impact

Words impact whether you manage to get people bought in to change; how inspirational your motivational speech is; how strongly you articulate the value of working with your company to your clients; whether you succeed in engaging the disengaged. Quite simply – the words you use matter way more than you realise. 

So let’s consider four little words, and the big impact they can all have. 


The word “why?” is touted by many as the correct way to do root cause analysis: the five whys; ask why enough times and you will get to the root cause, amongst others. But what these methodologies really teach us is about the power of questioning and less about the word you use to question. 

“Why?” can actually be more destructive in questioning than you realise. This is usually for two reasons: 

The first being that it sends you backwards, so when you ask “why” it sends your mind back into the past and usually sends you, or the person you are speaking to, in a spin that prevents you from moving forward productively. 

The second is that when “why” is used as a question to others – it usually sends them into defense. It is very difficult to ask the word “why” without an accusation, no matter how nice your tone is. This then works detrimentally with root cause analysis as often you receive back excuses versus real insight into the root cause of problems. 

Usually, the “why” is far less important than “what” you’re going to do now, or “how” you’re going to move forwards. Replace the word “why” with “what” and “how” questions: 

What happened? How did that happen? 

What are you going to do differently next time? How are you going to create a different outcome? 


The word “try” provides an excuse not to do something before you even start. It often arises subconsciously during change as an excuse for not making a change. 

Even worse than when you use it yourself, if you ask your team to “try” it is impossible to hold them accountable if they then miss a deadline, as you only asked them to “try”. Equally in leadership updates, or when presenting to clients, the word “try” plants seeds of doubt and lessens the impact of your communication. 

Switch the word “try” for: 

My aim is to…

I am going to do…

Can you please do…

Can you please get that to me by…


Often used alongside “try”, the acronym “ASAP” can appear to soften requests, or when you are unsure of timelines. The usual result from this though is unclear, muddy communication. As with the word “try” this severely lessens the impact of what you say, and often leads to misalignment of timelines and expectations. 

Instead of “ASAP” give clear deadlines, or if you don’t know, give a deadline of when you will come back with more information. 


When you use the word “but” – you essentially delete what you said before, and all the person remembers is the piece after the “but”. 

Often “but” is used to soften feedback – i.e., you say something positive then add a “but” and insert negative feedback. The key is to remove “but” and either place a full stop to separate the two pieces of what you are saying or replace “but” with “and”. 

Instead of: You did a great job with this, but this piece wasn’t so good. 

Replace with: You did a great job with this. The piece you need to work on is this. And you could also consider this. 

We all will have words that we use often out of the ones above, usually driven by your own unique behavioural make up. 

Consider if there are any of the above four words that you use regularly, and what you will replace them with to increase the impact of your communication.

Laura Weaving
Laura Weaving

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