When Franklin Delano Roosevelt better known as FDR was inaugurated as President of the United States in 1933, the country was sinking in the mire of the Great Depression. Against the canvas of failing banks, unprecedented unemployment rates, and people starving, FDR used talks, called firechats, coupled with decisive actions to steer the nation out of one of its worst times.
Amid all the noise of hopelessness and despair, the voice of FDR came through radio into the homes and hearts of millions of Americans. It became a signal of hope that better times were ahead. He used language to create connectivity and to many Americans it felt like the President was right there in their homes and not sitting in the White House behind a microphone.
What was the effect of these chats? The day following his first chat, long lines were observed outside of banks. People were depositing money instead of withdrawing it.
In a time when social media has given a platform for us to say what we want, we can learn from FDR, America’s longest serving president (12 years), four ways how to use better language to create effective relationships.
1.Mark Your Tone
FDR used a fatherly tone to communicate optimism and reassurance at a time when a gulf existed between government and people. Americans felt like he knew them even though most had never met him. His tone closed the gap between government and people and shifted the mood of the nation from bleak to hopeful. This was key in restoring trust and confidence, which are vital ingredients in building better relationships and even a better nation.
Tone is the housing within which you phrase your words. It is the mood that we project on others through our words. Tone can be compared with attitude while mood can be related with the atmosphere created.
Beneath the surface of the tone we use in any written or spoken communication is the mood we carry as well as project on others. Tone permeates every communication.
Use your tone to convey:
As an exercise, read the following two sentences for tonal effect.
- Great job.
- Great job!
Simply adding the exclamation point creates a different tone and mood for the reader.
Now, let’s add a little more to the next two.
- Call me at 7pm.
- Could you please call me after 7pm?
The question mark moves the tone from a demand to a request shifting the mood .
Lastly, consider these two messages that two project managers sent to their team on a Thursday morning about a project deadline. Which one communicates a tone of friendliness, respect, and sincerity?
- The project has to be completed by Friday otherwise we will all be working late on Saturday.
- I know how hard the team has been working, and with a Friday deadline approaching, I believe we can pull together and complete it in time to enjoy a wonderful weekend.
2. Measure Your Words
FDR began his “pod chats” with “My friends.” This was a departure from the us vs them rhetoric that the previous administration had established by using force and aggression to flex its power. On the contrary, FDR measured his words each time he spoke to give hope by building what Stephen Covey called a horizontal relationship with the public rather than a vertical one.
As we talk about gun control and border control, I propose we add word control to the discussion. There is a proverb that says, “A word fitly spoken, is like a gold apple in settings of silver.” This means that measured words will always stand out against any backdrop.
Use these three qualities to give gold to your words before you deliver them:
- Love: Martin Luther King Jr said that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. Love tempers you from using your words as weapons. From flinging aimlessly with words that wound. Rather, love helps us put more thought into our words and communicate constructively.
- Grace: Refrain from language that is slanderous, degrading, or meaningless. Words measured with grace add flavor. Grace helps your words become palatable and easier to digest without causing mental or cardiac constipation.
- Truth: Truth is crucial today. Be a truth teller, not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You can be tough and firm when communicating truth but we don’t have to mean while delivering it.
3. Mind Your Intention
FDR’s unequivocal intention was to stop the bank failure that were at the heart of the depression. He also knew that confidence needed to be restored and it was his responsibility. With that, he steered his chats in the direction of restoring confidence in the banking system with words that convinced the banks to open and people to deposit their money instead of withdrawing it. It was during this time that the FDIC was introduced by FDR as a walk the talk measure to instill confidence.
In George Washington’s Rules of Civility, one of the simplest but often overlooked rule is, think before you speak. Do not bring out your words with haste, but orderly and with clarity. We can make an addendum for our social media age and say, “Think before you speak or post.”
Ask these questions before you talk or write. They will save you from communication remorse:
- What is the purpose of the communication?
- Is my goal to make a point or to make a difference?
- Am I seeking my own interest or the best interest of the recipient as well?
- How would I want the same message communicated to me?
Remember this a rule of thumb: Do not bring out your words with haste, but orderly and with clarity.
4. Maximize Your Platform
FDR created interdependence. With a nation consumed with individualism (America first), he used his platform as president to establish a cooperative spirit. He aptly observed, “Competition has been shown to be useful upto a point and no further, but cooperation which is the thing we strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”
In an age where we all have a space to express ourselves, proper stewardship of our platforms with our words is key to creating spaces where rich and healthy conversations can thrive. How can you maximize your platform?
- Create a safe place by becoming a source of help not manipulation.
- Seek to serve not just take sides.
- Prompt others with a call to action that builds not destroys.
Final thought: The more rare something is, the higher it is in value. How will you use what you have been given to communicate priceless but desperately needed words of hope? By using the appropriate tone, measuring your words, minding your intention, and maximizing our platforms we can ensure no corrupt communication flows from us but only words that build others up and not destroy them.
Keep on Keeping on!