War words in the workplace: is it time to kill-off violent vocab?

Think military-esque eloquence motivates your employees? One HR pro says violent language only massacres morale.

There’s no shortage of corporate buzzwords that everyone hates but can’t seem to escape from – HR pro Andrew May says military words are the very worst of a bad bunch and could even have a negative impact on workplace morale.

“Phrases like 'smash through the opposition', 'killing it', 'guerrilla marketing' and 'bleeding edge', roll off managers' tongues without any consideration of what these words or metaphors actually convey,” said the performance coach.
In 2007, a biological study found that negative words have a huge impact on the processing power of our brains. Alzbeta Talarovicova, the study’s author, said seeing a negative word for just one second could cause a “sudden release of dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters.”

These chemicals immediately interrupt the normal functioning of your brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication.

“Just seeing a list of negative words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse,” revealed Talarovicova.  “The more you ruminate on them, the more you can actually damage key structures that regulate your memory, feelings and emotions. You'll disrupt your sleep, your appetite, and your ability to experience long-term happiness and satisfaction."

HR manager Natalie Peters agrees; “Words like these create the psyche that we're at war with each other,” she said. “To me, work should be a place where employees want to go and collaborate. Not a place to go and hit each other with blunt instruments or wipe each other out."

Kamal Sarma, the CEO of leadership coaching firm Rezilium, works with leaders to help them reshape the language they use.
"It is very important business leaders are aware of both the metaphors and the language they create in an organisation,” he said.
Sarma has spent the last 12 years researching why we use destructive and dominating language in a world where people want to feel equal and inspired – he says it all stems from hearing them at home and at school.
"Start to take notice of how many war words you or your managers use on a daily basis and try substituting them for more positive, engaging words,” urges May. “See if you notice a difference in the way you interact.”

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