The Power of Words

The Power of Words

Fernando Flores is pissed off. He has had enough of the bullshit. The 55-year-old philosopher, former Chilean minister of finance, former political prisoner under Augusto Pinochet’s rule, has flown halfway around the world, from California to Holland, to transform two executive teams — 32 leaders in all — of a global construction giant. These are people accustomed to building on a grand scale. But right now, building is their problem, not their business: Their world-class reputation for being brilliantly managed, it turns out, consists only of hollow words — words that have little power and less value.

Flores knows about words and how they translate directly into deeds. He knows that talk is never cheap — he often charges more than $1 million for his services, a fee that is linked directly to specific promises of increased revenues and savings. He also knows that talk is the source of these executives’ failure. Their words work against them — which is why they can’t get anything to work for them.

Talk all you want to, Flores says, but if you want to act powerfully, you need to master “speech acts”: language rituals that build trust between colleagues and customers, word practices that open your eyes to new possibilities. Speech acts are powerful because most of the actions that people engage in — in business, in marriage, in parenting — are carried out through conversation. But most people speak without intention; they simply say whatever comes to mind. Speak with intention, and your actions take on new purpose. Speak with power, and you act with power.

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