(This post is excerpted from The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent)

Your words speak the truth. They reflect your commitments – your promises to act. Whether you have a long conversation with a friend or a business conversation with a work colleague, every word makes a difference. The results of our interactions are rarely neutral; they are almost always positive or negative. Do my words reflect my commitment to be a reliable friend, spouse, sibling, or leader?

Words are the seeds of commitment. Reliable people see their words as their personal promises to others. Once they are spoken, your words either grow in the form of an immediate response, or they take time to germinate.

It’s all too easy to let our personal reliability slip through the language we use. The power of your actions is preceded by the power of your words. Speaking with specificity creates a sense of reliability and commitment. Ambiguity is the Achilles heel of reliability.

Ambiguous language increases frustration and rework, but specific language boosts reliability. It is the bridge to winning performance. Without this bridge, you are dead in the water. With it, you have the necessary platform to raise the reliability standard for yourself and your team. Build reliability for others and yourself by using specific phrases like these:

  • Yes, I will do that for you.
  • I’m not sure, but I’ll give you a firm answer by noon tomorrow.
  • I will own this.
  • I will make time to get this done.
  • I promise to close the loop by noon tomorrow so we can proceed.
  • It will be done by Friday, March 18 at 2 pm. Central Time.

At the same time, replace “reliability killers” like these because they sap energy and commitment:

  • We’ll see.
  • I’ll try.
  • If I have the time.
  • I will get back to you on that.
  • I’ll do my best.
  • When I get around to it.

Assess your own language of reliability by writing down common phrases you frequently say and write in your communications. Next, look at the language you have written down.

  • Is it as specific as you want your team’s language to be?
  • Where can  you be more specific?
  • Do you use certain catch phrases that might not have specific and consistent meaning to others?
  • Do your words reflect your personal promise to be reliable?

One of the classic lines from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was delivered by Yoda, the Jedi Master: “Do … or do not. There is no try.”  If this 900-year-old little green guy can speak the language of reliability, so can you!

“Lee and Julie deliver powerful lessons. As inspirational as it is practical. A vital tool for leaders at any career stage. An extraordinary book!”  

Marshall Goldsmith, The Thinkers 50  #1 Leadership Thinker in the World