Having powerful conversations; Finding the right words

Having high quality conversations in the workplace allow people to develop ideas more readily, collaborate better to achieve higher performance and build relationships that go past the transactional.

We have explored two concepts so far in how to foster higher quality conversations in the workplace (human connection and building an environment of trust) and this is a third; Using the right words.

Years ago when Purple Monster was only a very young monsterlet (what’s a baby monster called?) we were fortunate enough to meet Peter Searles – a great raconteur and actor who had us enthralled when watching him point out what people were doing physically with their gestures, posture and body language during a role play that two actors were performing.

It set us off down the road of investigating Professor Mehrabian’s famous (and as we shall see, often misquoted) 1967 study around likeability. You know the one – where 55% of an individual’s communication is influenced by the Body Language they use, 38% is in the tone and 7% is in the words. Well just to eliminate any misunderstanding here is what the Professor actually said 40 years after his initial experiments:

“Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking.

Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like–dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable”.

Mehrabian, Albert (2009). 

“Silent Messages” – A Wealth of Information About Nonverbal Communication (Body Language)”.

In other words, you can’t apply this to everything around communication just because it’s a neat statistic. Maybe what you say, and how you say it, is important after all. Of course it is. It always was. Don’t believe everything you read, or hear, or say.
So if how and what you say is important then we have to be thoughtful and intentional with our choice of words. We also have to be conscious of how we choose to say something and indeed when and where we say it.

Later in this series around conversations we will be discovering the importance of having ‘difficult conversations’ but here, on the topic of the importance of the words we use, and how we use them we would like to consider the concept of ‘calling in’.
Very recently we were fortunate enough to play a key part in the design and delivery of two global seminars around being a good ally. We discussed Allyship and also what it means to be a support for someone every day.
Not for the first time we were fortunate to be working with someone who knows and lives Inclusion and Diversity with every fibre of her being and she introduced us to this concept of ‘calling in’.

Let’s imagine a scenario for a second. This might be tricky for some of you as we are deliberately overexaggerating this scenario for dramatic effect. Go with it.

Imagine a massive movie studio was updating all of its much loved animated classics and ‘upgrading‘ them to live action. Imagine that they cast an actor who was of a different ethnicity to that which was in the original cartoon. With us so far?

One day, in your office, someone casually makes a comment about what a big storm in a teacup this all is and how ‘it’s a bloody PC minefield out there’. You hear what they are saying and are extremely irritated, upset and angry at the stance that they are taking. What do you do now? The person is a colleague with similar qualifications and experience as you, they are well liked and respected in their work and it is in a public place.

The temptation might be to immediately jump into action and call out what you consider to be an unacceptable viewpoint and some people might agree with you. But it’s how you challenge the behaviour that is interesting and this is where ‘calling in’ comes in.

To quote Relationship coach, Mel Mariposa, “Call-ins are agreements between people who work together to consciously help each other expand their perspectives”. Now that’s a great concept isn’t it? Expanding our perspectives. Well we think so. So what’s the difference between calling someone out on something and calling it in. 


Calling in is ‘Can I have a quick word with you about something’

Let’s be honest here. Nobody likes to be told off in front of other people do they? It makes people defensive and that’s not the place to start ‘expanding our perspectives’. Mel Mariposa, the author of the blog, Polysingleish and co-founder of The Consent Crew has these thoughts on how to ‘call in’ and what to look out for when you do.


Which brings us right back to the beginning – you can’t just rely on body language and tone to get your message out. You have to use words. The words you use will help to determine the power that the conversation has. By calling someone out, in this example the response is likely to be emotion fueled and the point you were trying to make, lost. By using words which are thoughtful, objective and respectful then it is much more likely to result in a reflective response and potentially a change in future actions.

The words you choose and how you say them does make an awful lot of difference to how people hear and interpret what you say. Professor Mehrabian would agree. And, according to the Bee Gees, ‘words are all I have’. And who’s going to argue with them?

(Other songs with ‘Words’ in the title are available. Do please feel free to share your own favourite with robin@purplemonster.co.uk )

Unleash your conversation superpower!

Our conversation card activity is a simple way to get people talking openly and freely without the cringe worthy ice-breaker.