Every professional, regardless of their position or stature, should go back to basics on a regular basis to ensure that bad habits have not been formed. In that vein, I cannot think of a better time to review a few basic fundamentals than as we approach the beginning of a new year. I have watched the undisciplined and casual choice of vocabulary cause even the savviest executives to lose productivity and leverage without even realizing it. The simple reality for leaders is that what you say and how you say it does in fact matter. In a previous post entitled “Vocabulary…It Does Matter” I address this subject in great detail. However, in today’s post, I want to get back to basics and focus on three words that can make a huge difference in not only boosting your personal productivity but also the productivity of your entire team

While I encourage you to follow your parent’s direction and always use “please” and “thank you” as they are greatly appreciated by all, these are not two of the words that I referenced above. Two of the words that I’ll share with you in the text that follows are not used nearly often enough, and the third word is used all too often and usually in an inappropriate manner. However, when used correctly these three words can make a dramatic difference in raising your productivity to new heights.

Let’s start with the word that is quite literally a two-edged sword. Used correctly the word “yes” can enable great things to happen. As an enabling word “yes” is a catalyzing and driving vocabulary item that sets things in motion. However the inappropriate use of the word “yes” will sink your boat faster than any other 3 letter word in the English language. The incorrect use of the word “yes” overextends, over commits, causes a lack of focus, launches failed initiatives, wastes resources and causes any number of other problematic situations.

The key to the proper use of the word “yes” is to use wisdom and discernment in its application. Don’t just say yes because you can, but rather evaluate the chain of events set into motion by a yes answer and determine whether or not an affirmative response will cause more harm than good. I have always prided myself on trying to find ways to say “yes” in a manner that moves things forward in a productive fashion. This means I actually think about the consequences of what I say before I say it. If my analyses leads me to believe that a “yes” will create more harm than good that 3 letter word simply won’t pass through my lips.

Let’s turn our attention to the word that will help you clear the decks to focus on the highest and best use activities. The word is “no”… Most achievement-oriented professionals want to take on the world and as such have a propensity to bite-off more than they can chew. Being over-committed will suck the life out of those who possess even the greatest amounts of energy.

Saying “no” doesn’t come easy to many as it is counter-intuitive to wanting to help others succeed. The fact is that by saying “no” more often you’ll help others develop their skill sets faster by not being overly dependent upon your expertise. It is critical to remember that by solving other’s problems or fixing their mistakes you are neither being productive or a good leader. When someone asks you to bail them out you should tell them that you would be happy to support them by coaching them through the issue, but that they’ll have to resolve it on their own accord. This is leading by mentoring and educating not by being a doormat. Try this…the next time someone asks you for a “yes” answer that you’re disinclined to give say: “that’s an interesting idea, what other options have you considered and what are the pros and cons of each?” This question gives someone the chance to refine their thinking with the possibility of still receiving a “yes” answer to their request.

By learning to say “no” to things that do not constitute the highest and best use activities you will find that you have much more time to focus on priorities and you’ll notice an immediate boost in productivity. Additionally with appropriate use of the word “no” you will start to build some bench strength by training people to resolve conflict and problem solve on their own.

The third word and my personal favorite is “why”… No other word can cut through ambiguity, force justification of positioning, control a conversation, surface flawed logic or stimulate refined thinking like the proper use of “why.” The skillful application of “why’ can also serve to test the depth and breadth of someone’s commitment or subject matter expertise.

My favorite use of “why” kills two birds with one stone…it allows me to gain an insight into how people think by having them step through their thought process while at the same time using the exercise as a teaching tool. By continuing to drill down on a subject with the appropriate use of “why” I have watched individuals take what was little more than a raw concept and within a matter of minutes refine it into a well fleshed-out plan.

Use these three words effectively and watch your productivity soar…