10 Words Smart Women Leaders Use Often

Some words are more powerful than others – and these 10 are powerhouses. They can bring out the best in your people, spark creativity and build stronger relationships.

Smart women leaders use these words often when they speak or write because they’re proven to effectively get your point across.

1. If

If can help improve performance and focus when you use it to describe a positive hypothetical situation.

For instance, when you’re trying to gather ideas or conquer a problem, a well-placed “if” opens up new thought and action opportunities.

Looking for an idea

Say things such as, “What would you do if you had all the resources?” or “How could we handle this if we had to resolve it within a day?”

2. Could

Could boosts creativity and loosens the limits that the word “should” can put on your team.

Ask your group (or even yourself when you need to test the limits): “What could we do?” instead of “What should we do?” It helps people open minds to many more possibilities than the logical things they should do.

A bonus: A study found that when people shift the question from should to could, they had more moral insight on the issue they were considering. That was helpful because they often realized that competing values were not completely incompatible.

3. Yes

Get someone to repeat this little word three times early in a conversation and you can increase the likelihood that he’ll do what you’ve asked.

“Little yesses” are what you’re after. As an example, if you want an employee to stop undercutting colleagues and causing the group to get off track, say:

  • “You understand the importance of maintaining a professional atmosphere in our meetings, right?” (Yes.)
  • “Then you know that no one can talk when a colleague has the floor, right?” (Yes.)
  • “So you’ll keep your thoughts to yourself until it’s your turn to talk at our upcoming meetings, right?” (Yes.)

4. Together

Together builds belonging and connections. It can make teams become more efficient. It makes individuals feel like they’re part of something bigger.

We and Let’s have similar impacts. Say things such as, “If we work together, we can meet the deadline,” or “Let’s pool our ideas together to find a solution.”

5. Choose

Choose is the ultimate way to reframe a situation that you and your people “have to” face or manage. When people “have to” do something, it’s often met with dread. It sounds and feels like a chore.

However, when you consider and frame it as something you choose to do because you want to, almost any task is palatable.

For instance, instead of “We have to file the quarterly report this week,” say, “If we choose to file the quarterly report by Thursday, we can all leave work an hour early Friday and get an early start on the weekend!”

6. And

And is a positive alternative to but. Using but contradicts what you’ve said prior to it or what another person has just said to you.

Whether you’re talking with employees, the CEO or colleagues, and allows you to do several things:

  • continue your point
  • give more useful insight, and/or
  • reach agreement.

For instance, “I understand your point, and I think we can build on it” will make a more positive impact than “I understand your point, but I don’t think it’ll work.”

Another example: “Your research is thorough, and it’s a good start to what I can tell will be a successful project,” is more empowering than, “Your research is thorough, but it lacks the depth we need.”

7. Thank you

Leaders who say thank you honestly and appropriately build better relationships. One study found that people who thank new acquaintances for any kind of help will more likely maintain an ongoing relationship with that person.

A genuine thank you shows your employees, customers and colleagues you’re a leader who will be part of a high quality relationship.

8. Why

The smartest leaders aren’t afraid to ask dumb questions. Asking why (or what or how) creates learning opportunities for women in leadership – and everyone around them.

As a personal example: I once sat in a presentation where a front-line manager of a Fortune 500 corporation explained emerging healthcare technology. I was confused. The people around me looked equally confused. A division president raised her hand and asked a few questions we all probably had: “Why did you change … ?” “What is that … ?” “Why is it important?” “Why don’t those numbers match up?”

After she got the answers, she paraphrased them in simpler language – and we all learned something.

9. Tell

As a woman in leadership, you likely hear lots of ideas – some you solicit, many you don’t. The initial reaction to unsolicited suggestions is often, “no,” because you’re too busy, they seem farfetched or the timing is wrong.

The smartest leaders skip the “no” and say, Tell me more … because they seek to understand more and withhold judgment until they can fully appreciate the situation.

Even if the answer in the end is “no,” saying “Tell me” signals you’re willing to listen.

10. Whether

Leaders often ask how or why they or their team should do something. Many times, whether they should do something needs to be the first and last thing they ask.

Before you and your employees look for a new course of action or different way to execute, make sure you actually need to do anything. Challenge yourselves by asking some whether-related questions: “How does this plan align with our organization’s goals” or “What will change if we go forward with the idea?”

The right words at the right time can influence how people react and move forward. Use these naturally – not in a forced way – when you need to understand, motivate and challenge.