How Your Words Influence Behavior

Matt Havens generational keynote speaker article

Happy April everyone! April is easily one of my 12 favorite months in the year, primarily because of a single day called “April Fools!” In my family, April Fools is something of a family holiday. There was the time in college I called my Dad at 2am to let him know I had been arrested for streaking through the quad. My personal favorite was when we mailed a package to my Dad – guaranteed to arrive on April 1st – which made it look as though a repossession company had taken his boat. When the letter asked him to call immediately, the number provided was a Taco John’s in Kansas City. I’ll just say they were a little confused when he called.

Some of you might wonder how my father – a man who has made comedy his full-time profession for almost 30 years – would allow himself to get tricked so easily every year. Others will wonder why we pick on him over and over. For me, the fun comes down to concocting a plan and seeing if we can execute it flawlessly, especially when our target “should” know it’s coming and we only have a 24-hour window to get it right. So while my Dad tries to figure out a way to be prepare himself for April next year, I wanted to touch on something which is both equally important in executing an elaborate April Fool’s joke as it is to the business environment.

Your words matter. Make sure you use them wisely.

To drive the point home, let me share the story of my favorite April Fool’s joke. It was 2006, I was fresh out of college and working my first “real” job. It was a sales position for a start-up company and I was doing well; however, nothing was guaranteed since it was 100% commission-based. My Dad and I talked frequently about my decision to work for this company because he preferred the entrepreneurial route. “You’re never in charge until you’re CEO,” he always said. “Don’t let a company determine your value.” I kept those words in the back of my head and chalked it up to good ol’ fatherly advice.

Fast forward to March and it’s time to spring the April Fool’s trap**. I casually mentioned to my Dad that I was eagerly anticipating my upcoming performance review. Surely they would be impressed and make me CEO (as all Millennials think)! Then, on April 1st, I called my Dad to let him know I had been let go.

“Dad, I don’t understand. How can they tell me I’m doing a good job…..tell me we’re all part of the family….and then let me go after one bad month?”

(Pause…..silence……maybe a sniffle or two……….and then queue my Dad exploding on the other side of the phone)

He. Went. Off!! For the next 10 minutes I sat and listened to my Dad go on overdrive parent-mode, railing on my employer for firing me and being so quick to cast me out on the street. He went on and on about how I was better off to leave anyway and how the company was obviously doomed to fail if they didn’t have the foresight to keep an employee of my caliber (thanks Dad!). Multiple times I tried to jump in and stop the tirade, but I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to interject. Once it finally calmed down, I finally mustered up the strength to say to my Dad, “No, Dad. You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I think I’m better off without them and you’ll be better off once we get past April Fool’s Day, too.”

Oh, he was mad. He was furious! Yet another year he got tricked and this year he took it hook, line, and sinker!

Remember, I’m telling you this story because words matter. After all the hoopla calmed down, I asked my Dad why he went so postal over me losing a job. I mean, I didn’t necessarily give an Oscar-worthy performance about my firing. I didn’t even act too upset about it. So why did he take it to another level? My Dad went on to tell me it was the word “family” which caught him up. He was skeptical I might be playing a prank on him, but once he heard the “family” line it all went out of the window. He was upset a company would tell their employees they are “family,” but give me the pink slip for one bad month. That’s not what you would do to family, and it further cemented his belief I shouldn’t be letting someone else determine my value.

There’s a few lessons I pulled from the experience – both my first real job and my April Fool’s joke – but the one I most consistently reflect upon is how the specific words we choose matter. The words we choose are important in comedy to ensure a joke lands correctly and when intended. Our words matter in our personal and professional lives and can influence how people we interact with hear one thing (or another) based on the words we choose. So be careful. Be patient with your words. There’s a time to speak off-the-cuff and other times where a single word can influence how someone receives a message. Be mindful of those moments and you’ll find your message will hit the mark more often when you’re being intentional about the words you choose.

I hope you have a great rest of your April. If you’ve got a good April Fool’s joke you played on someone, I’m all ears. I need to start planning 2019! Until next time!

 

** There has been years of debate over whether it’s appropriate to “set up” an April Fool’s joke days or weeks in advance. I say if you’re gullible enough to fall for it, fair game!!

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