• Jeff Doolittle

Words Shape Perceptions and Results in the Workplace



Communication is one of the most central functions of life. Like air, the words leaders speak can give life to a business. But words can also constrain and limit realities for individual employees, teams, and organizations. Leaders that talk about what is wrong and ignore what might be limit what is possible. Fighting the fire of the day is not unimportant but considering the best of what is and what might be is a priority for inspiring a shared vision. Shared vision enables growth, embodies hopes, and gives an organization a sense of purpose.


Changing Your Mindset to Change Your Results


Many current work processes are designed to identify deficits and problems rather than find strengths. A deficit thinking approach starts with leaders identifying shortcomings and then selecting solutions to improve those shortcomings. The goal is to see all the potential gaps so that continuous improvements can be introduced. While this approach leads to progress, this approach does not identify what you want beyond knowing the solution to the problem.


Deficit thinking leadership approaches are failing business and society. This mindset has led to incremental workplace improvements, a flood of low cost, high-quality disposable products, and a lack of innovation.


While deficit thinking has been used successfully in many organizations, it is not without risks. Deficit thinking techniques can put people on the defensive, create resistance, a lack of buy-in, and in some cases develop a culture of blame rather than encourage change. How engaged will employees be if they believe leadership views them as problems needing to be fixed?


Additionally, when leaders are always approaching employees about what is wrong, eventually, employees associate the leader with being the problem. Even if what the leader has to share is helpful to the business. You know this link has occurred when hearing others say sarcastically, "I am from corporate, and I am here to help." They are saying this because they know they are not being viewed as helpful.


Compared with strengths-based approaches, deficit-oriented thinking leads to lower employee engagement, lower levels of performance improvement, and higher employee attrition rates. In learning studies, it has been found that individuals engaged in approaches to identify deficits have lower perceptions of competence and lower intrinsic motivation than strength-based approaches.



Strength-Based Thinking