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Intentional Communication and the Power of Words with Mihaela Berciu
Hi everyone, it’s Jenn DeWall. In this week’s episode of the Leadership Habit podcast, I sat down with Mihaela Berciu, and we talked about the power of words and how to be a more intentional communicator. I love the conversation around words. It’s something that I know that intentional communication is something I can improve on, and she gave really great insights in terms of some words that I never even thought about in terms of how they could be perceived and why we want to be very intentional with making sure that myself and the person that I’m talking to have the same definition. But let me tell you a little bit more about Mihaela. Using her core values model, Mihaela works with and advises board members, top-level managers, angel investors, and senior professionals seeking to excel in their careers and improved performance to drive even greater success.
Meet Mihaela Berciu, Leadership Breakthrough Specialist
Jenn DeWall: Mihaela’s client portfolio ranges from banking, financial consulting, pharmaceuticals, FMCGs, retail fashion, television, aviation services, and more. Feel like that is a ton. She received her executive coaching certification from Cambridge University and MBA from the American University in London, and studied psychology of mind and Theory of Knowledge at Oxford University. She hosted a national TV show viewed by hundreds of thousands and is the author of two best-selling books, dressed for Success and Success is in the details. Her mission is to get leaders to experience their excellence by exploring values, understanding aspirations, removing barriers, and visualizing the path to their personal and professional success. Let’s now envision a world where we can communicate better as Mihaela, and I start to talk about the power of your words and the language that you use.
We’re talking about a topic that I just think is so exciting today, and I just loved your energy when we met during the pre-call. You have such a profound story, and that really demonstrates the topic that we’re going to be talking about today, and I’m so excited that you’re here. So I just wanna start by saying Mihaela, thank you so much for coming on the show, for taking the time. It’s really been a pleasure to meet you, and I’m just excited to introduce you to our guests.
Mihaela Berciu: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me. I am very, very excited to be here today.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. And well, maybe tell our audience where you’re joining from today. You are across the pond for me. I am here in Colorado.
Mihaela Berciu: I’m in London, United Kingdom. So yes, we are meeting from across the waters.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. I love it. Well, we’re going to be talking to our audience about understanding the power of our words and the language, language that we use. A really important topic because, hey, it’s going to impact everything we do. Now, before we jump into the show because Mihaela has got a lot of great insights and ways that you can really strengthen your intention and how you communicate, I want her to just, you know, Mihaela, if you could just share a little bit more about yourself, talk about your story and how you came to be because I was inspired by your story, and I know that someone else will be too!
Mihaela Berciu: Thank you. So, my story is quite diverse <laugh> to put it in an interesting way. I grew up, I was born and grew up in Romania during communism, the most dire of the communisms in Eastern Europe. So that kind of showed me, oh, oh, oh, or rather it until I was about 16 when when the revolution happened. I was very much under the fear of words of what I’m saying and to whom I was saying it. So that kind of you know, it was at the beginning of this relationship romance between me and words, <laugh>, <laugh>.
Jenn DeWall: But I mean, I feel like that’s a very, you know, if I think about other people, and I, I’m sorry to interrupt your story. I don’t know if other people had that stark, like, you really need to pay attention to your words moment in their life. You know, there’s a high stake high stake consequences if you’re not doing that. And many of us have never been faced to do that, because we haven’t necessarily had those high stakes consequences of not mm-hmm.
Learning About the Power of Words
Mihaela Berciu: And, sorry. Exactly. And, and I think that the moment that I was mostly sort of faced with that you know, be careful what, what you, what you say and how you say it. It was after I visited London for the first time when I was 15. And for me, it was mind blowing. It was my second trip in the, in the west. And my first one was when I was 13 in Western Germany. And I was blown away that there, that such a world exists compared to the world I was living in, there were like complete, complete opposites. But then when I was, you know, 15 and when I was 15, 16, and I traveled to London, I was more mature emotionally as well. So pacing again, and, and I was in London for longer, it was it was a month.
So I, I actually had the time to experience living in, in such a place. And the abundance of everything for me was just insane because I was coming from a place where there was nothing, absolutely nothing in, in in shops. And so when I went back, you know, my mind was like on fire, and of course I was very excited, but at the same time, I was very frustrated and I was, you know, I’m a Leo, so I’m quite vocal, and I, I was vocal from, from a very young age that my parents had to sit me down and say, okay, we get it. We get the excitement, we get everything you’re going through, but you have to, to just shut up. You have to be very careful who you share that experience with. And, but mostly what you, what what you are gonna say.
Because at the time if you said anything, I mean, you didn’t have to say anything against the party or against the, the beloved president. If someone thought or heard you in a way that could have been interpreted as saying something against the party and and the system my parents would’ve been, you know, in, in, in big, big trouble because I was a minor. And of course, I wouldn’t have been in, in any trouble cause I, I wouldn’t have been responsible for my words, for my actions, but my parents would’ve had to, to pay for that. And so it was, it was a real danger. It wasn’t, oh, you know, don’t show off. Don’t, you know, it’s, it’s rude to show off and you have to be, you know, modest and all of that. No, it was actually, you know, life and death kind of situation. So that’s when, you know, the, it was reinforced to me the power, you know, of, of language, the power of words, and how if you’re not careful and if you just throw words around, they can do a lot of damage instead of do do, do good, right.
Jenn DeWall: I mean, again, I cannot, you know, I can’t even picture growing up with that level of fear of how our words could be used against us, against our parents, against someone. Mm-Hmm. And, you know, I’m so intrigued by childhood brain development and early brain development, not that I’m an expert in it, but how you were able to persevere and to take that, that intentionality that you had to learn for a more of a survival purpose. And now you’re taking it into the world to help them understand that. And heck, everyone listening your words may not have these high stakes consequences, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t wanna pay attention to them because the consequences you see, they might be great in the form of turnover or lack of productivity or disengagement.
The Problem with Words
Jenn DeWall: But you had mentioned at the back of it that you were talking about the problem with words. And so that’s the great, you know, the starting question. So Mihaela, what is the problem with words? What’s the problem with words? What do you mean? Like, we, we speak these all the time. I don’t, there’s a problem with them. I know the bad words we’re supposed to avoid, but what’s the problem with words?
Mihaela Berciu: Well, you’d be surprised how some words as innocent as they seem, they can actually be bad words, because you don’t know exactly how the other person hears hears them, and you don’t know the, their experience with those, those words. And in today’s world where we meet people from, you know, all, all various cultures, various languages, maybe, maybe the translation from another language means something else. But also,
Jenn DeWall: Also a laugh that I have right now. And if, if, you know, you know, I’m not gonna say it, but Kylie Jenner just named her child. I think there was a big movement on TikTok that talked about what the origin name of that was in another language. And that’s like more of a pop culture reference of not maybe paying attention to that, or even going back to another Kardashian reference, Kim Kardashian, and trying to initially use the word kimono, not paying attention to how that word is used and perceived and valued in a different culture.
Mihaela Berciu: Exactly. Exactly. And if, you know, if you think if, if you, if you take those two examples, those are people who have teams of, of marketing teams of pr people, teams of everything. And they still, you know, they still created or, or, or made, made a mistake un unaware, you know made a mistake. So, but now bring that to, you know, us, the, the rest of us,
Jenn DeWall: <Laugh> <laugh> that don’t have a team. We just have ourselves
Building Trust with Intentional Communication
Mihaela Berciu: We just have our own self-restraint, self-awareness and, and our minds and our vocabulary. But I also, apart from that I also, you know, strongly believe words do carry energy. So when you say something it, it will very likely, you know, it, it depends on how, how it matches theenergy of the person receiving. And if probably if I would have to give a piece of advice, and it’s actually the piece of advice that I give to my clients is when you say something, don’t say it for yourself. Say it for the other person. Don’t, you know, it’s not a conversation with yourself when it, when it’s a, when it’s a conversation, it’s about the other person. So be mindful about that. And I know it may sound, you know that you can, you can be inauthentic because you’d have to maybe change the words, but in my opinion, you become much more authentic when you start thinking how what I’m saying can affect the other person. And cause then you build a different kind of trust and the, the, the channels of communications open in magical, magical ways.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. I, and that example, it happened, you and I had the pre-call, and then I had a miscommunication with, with someone about a deadline. And we were talking about something. What I heard is that it was due, you know, yesterday. And, and what, and when we actually came to follow up this conversation, and I talked, we talked about like my friction. Cause I, I worked a really, really long day then to get this done. What then I found out is that they meant to say it was supposed to be due on Tuesday, but if it goes to next week, that’s fine, <laugh>. I didn’t hear that. So I put in a 14 hour day to get it done. Yeah. And I was frustrated because it was a surprising deadline to me, but then to find out that that actually wasn’t what they meant,
Avoiding Miscommunication by Communicating Intentionally
Mihaela Berciu: And that’s why there is so much conflict out there, you know that is completely unnecessary because if, if, you know, I’m sure, I’m sure you you, you’ve heard and read and maybe some other guests spoke about it. But there, you know, when you, when you listen, if you listen to, to respond you will never understand exactly the message because you are in a rush. You are in a rush to, to, you know, spl out your opinion. So if you, if we take that in instead of listening to understand, and that’s where the power of listening is listening to understand rather than listening to, to respond or to react. And when, if, if we take that and we turn it around, if you speak, you know, to be understood, rather than if you speak to, to draw a reaction, the the interaction will be very, very different. And when, when we’re in a rush and we’re, you know way too often in a rush, we don’t listen to understand. We just hear something and that’s it. We react and we don’t hear the, the rest of the message. And we, we miss, miss out on the essence of the message.
Jenn DeWall: I wonder how much those miscommunications where we say something really quick, we all do it. I absolutely do it. And think like, did you get that? I didn’t even check to see if you got that. Hopefully you got that. Mm-Hmm. I mean, so many times I think we, I wonder, I just wonder how much that those types of miscommunications where we say something really quick, knowing that we don’t get the Face time that we necessarily used to, of how much they’ve, you know, miscommunication has increased just because we don’t have necessarily that face-to-face conversation anymore with people. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> so much of it is electronic, or it’s just that it might be a one and done. We have our virtual meeting, this is what I said, and then there’s not another time that I can see you unless there’s a meeting or something.
Mihaela Berciu: Yep, exactly. We we’re too rushed, definitely too rushed in in, in our communications. But also the other thing is where a lot of conflict and, and miscommunication, let’s say comes from is we think a lot before we actually get to the point of saying something. And we are so accustomed with everything, we have been thinking of that when we say something in a, in, in the desire to be, you know succinct to, to be quick, to, you know, not waste time, we sort of say something with the having the belief that the other person knows what we mean, because we’re so accustomed by now with our, our thoughts. And and then they get, you know, a phrase and they’re like, what the hell was that all about? You know? And you are like, well, what is so difficult to understand? You know?
Cause you’ve had hours of thoughts in your head about that. Whereas this person has been thrown a phrase and with the expectation that they’ll get it like this. Well, they won’t, they won’t. First of all the, when we speak to them, their mind is somewhere else. So, you know, the first step is bring them in the room with you, you know, align them with the topic and then start talking about it. And then always, always, always ask, you know, is this, you know, did you, did you get what I meant to say? You know, what, what did I mean to say? Or if they say something, you know, I always ask, what does that mean to the most simplest things? What does that mean to you? And then they’re like, well, what do you mean what it means to me? I mean, exactly that. What does it mean to you? And then when they start explaining, I said, oh, okay. Cuz to me it means this. And they’re like, oh, really? Yeah. And then, you know, you clarify and you leave that room with a positive outcome. Un otherwise you just leave the room and you start going into overthinking because you’re are uncertain of what was that all about? And just like it happened to you, you ended up working extra hours, extra hard when maybe 30 seconds more of clarification would’ve led to a very different outcome.
Jenn DeWall: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there, I know I’m not alone. And I share that example. And, and even, I want to say this, the person that I had that conversation with is a lovely person. We just had a miscommunication. And I think that’s important to remember that, you know, assume positive intent with people. I, I didn’t assume it very well. I was very frustrated on Monday, but I did approach the follow-up conversation very objectively and just, you know, talking about what we can do differently going forward, assume Positive intent.
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The Power of Choosing Our Words to Communicate with Intention
Jenn DeWall: You talked about, and I wanna dive into this cuz why do we need to care about the power of our words? And you hit on the point of not all words are created equal, and we don’t all define them the same. When I think of that, I think of even the word success. That success is an entirely different, very personal definition of what we think success looks like. Whether, I know for me, my 20 year old self is like doing everything perfect the first time because you’re amazing. Yeah. Well, you know, obviously the ego, the like, perfection, it didn’t work. But what examples do you what examples do you kind of see where people might misuse, you know, or use one definition in one word and then someone else perceives it as the other? I mean, success is my favorite one to ask because you can kind of learn a lot about what’s your definition of success, and most people haven’t thought about it.
Mihaela Berciu: Yeah. Well, another one that is very often used with, again, you know, endless meanings and understanding is imagination. It’s, you know, imagination. You can, you can tell someone that’s your imagination saying, you are a bit crazy. I never said that. You know, that’s all in your head. Or you say, well, use your imagination, which is a positive thing, you know, learn, be be more creative, be fearless. Go with it. Or say, well, in your imagination that is gonna happen, which is like never, you know, don’t even think about it. So it goes on and on and on and on. And yes, there’s a lot of intonation, you know, that gives meaning to, to words, but it’s choosing the right words that makes the, makes the difference. And one, one example that I can give especially when I work with leaders regarding their teams and their interaction with their teams, is when they say everything is so complicated. And I say, well, it’s, is it complicated or is it complex?
Jenn DeWall: Yeah.
Mihaela Berciu: And then they’re a bit like well, hmm, well what’s the difference? Well, you tell me. Is there a difference between complicated and complex? And then they realize that actually complicated is a negative word. And it’s, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s not you. You are not in a good place if something is complicated. Whereas if something is complex, it’s much more positive, it’s much more, you know much more interesting to work with. And it, it takes away a lot of heaviness in, in that in that in interaction and in how you regard whatever, you know, it was complicated but became complex. So it’s much much more lighter to deal with. Yes. Oh,
Jenn DeWall: That’s a really powerful example because even just rooting that, if you go to your team and you’re like, this is really complicated, you’re just creating a stress response for them. We have the opportunity to solve this complex challenge. You know, it’s complex, but I know if we break it down, we can figure it out.
Mihaela Berciu: Exactly.
Jenn DeWall: I feel like there’s motivation within those words and that tone of paying attention of like the right word choice and it’s framing. Mm-Hmm.
Mihaela Berciu: Absolutely. <laugh> change is the whole dynamic. And it’s the same is the same. Another example would be problem versus question. If you go to someone, and, and this is something I would actually encourage, you know, your, your, your listeners our listeners to do, go to someone, anyone, whether you know them or not, it doesn’t matter. And say, I have a problem. Immediately their body, body language will change because when it’s a problem is alarm, you know, and they become alert, they become like, oh my God, what’s going on? I I don’t need your problems.
You know, I I, if you say, I have a problem, well, it’s your problem. Deal with it. I don’t need your problems. Whereas if you go and say, I have a question, they open up. Because then you, they, they, they connect with you. They think, oh, well this person must really, you know, look, look up to me. If they come to me with a question, they, you know, that’s good. That’s nice. So they become curious. They wanna help you. It’s, and, and at the end of the day, it’s the same thing. Yeah. You know, but it’s, it’s just reframing it, it’s just approaching it in a, in a very different way.
Jenn DeWall: Thinking about, how can I say this in a way that doesn’t, you know, arm them up in a way that disarms them, that allows them to enter the conversation. And it’s, you know, I think we don’t take the time to slow down and do that. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, we just don’t. Mm-Hmm. We’re all way too rushed, way too busy. The expectations of what we’re supposed to accomplish in, in a day have increased and the hours are still the same. And it’s so interesting, you know, in the Crestcom, CEO we will say this, like, there’s always, you know, we obviously teach leadership, you’re in the leadership space. We’re never going to have a world where we’re not learning about communication <laugh>.
Mihaela Berciu: No, no. Absolutely not. But that’s, that’s the fun of it, you know, that’s what I find very interesting and very engaging with, with communication. Cuz it’s, it’s just wonderful. You know, it’s just a a a great place to, to push yourself, to challenge yourself, to learn, to grow to.
Increasing Your Awareness to Improve Intentional Communication
Jenn DeWall: Yeah. I love it. Well, let’s, let’s dive into it. Okay. Let’s think about, you know, how can we, how can we do that? Because again, and I will say this, and I, I’ve sat in this chair for a while. Self-Awareness is legitimately one of, from how I see it, one of the hardest things to build and mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And there’s a lot of different ways you can do it, but there also is a piece of ownership that needs to happen for you to actually build a self-awareness. And so as, yeah, you’re talking about what you can do, you know, be curious and gentle with yourself. If you’ve noticed some things that maybe you didn’t do well, like, it’s okay, you can do something different. But let’s talk about the how, how we can do this. How can you increase your self-awareness around language?
Mihaela Berciu: Well, first of all pay attention to what other people say and how, how they react. Because if for example, if they say, oh, I knew you were gonna say that, that it means there’s something you use regularly. So think of that, what is it? Why am I using and why are people reacting like that? Or if you think if you go towards someone with something and their reaction seems to be out of proportion with how, with how, how, you know, big or or small, the problem is or whatever issue you raised with them then you have to go back and say, okay, how did I address this? And it’s always after the fact for a while until you build, you know, that awareness to react in, in the moment and then before the moment. So you are, you are, you become in control of how, what langu language you use.
But more than that, the, the, the fun part of building this awareness is just play with words. Just play with words, you know, is, and with your thoughts is going back to maybe the problem, you know, I have a problem. Well, is it really a problem? You know, what, what does the problem mean? And then you start playing around and what’s a different word? For, for problem, you know, I see, I, I love, if I see or I hear a word, I just go in, in my, you know, in my app, dictionary app. And I just look at synonyms and I just play around those words and I think, oh, maybe this one sounds better and this is more closer, you know, to what I want to, to express. And the other thing is always ask people, what do you mean by that?
Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, what does this word mean to you? Even if it’s a simple word, a word like problem, what does it that mean to you? Because maybe for me and my background and the way I grew up, problem is life or death. Yeah. But for you is a mild inconvenience. So when you come to me and says, I hear the word problem coming out of your mouth, my senses go like, you know, alarm, alarm, alarm. And you’re like, what’s going on? You know, cuz it’s not a big deal. And then I think, well, maybe it’s not a big deal for you, but clearly it is a big deal if you use this word. So have, build more awareness on the fact that with curiosity that other people for, for the the same words might mean other things for other people. And also they have different intensities for different people.
Intentional Communication and Understanding Triggers
Jenn DeWall: That is a really great example because I think that there are, you know, if we think about the power of words in terms of the emotional reaction that happens in your body when you hear a particular word that you might have someone that’s like, oh, I’m a problem solver. I can handle any level of problem that’s come my way. Well, yeah, it all depends on how you divide problem. If problem for someone else is life or death is a high stakes thing, they’re naturally going to have that reaction. And so kind of saying like, I’m really great cause I’m a, a problem solver. And then maybe not taking into account that someone looks at it differently based on their background. It’s not that they’re not capable, it’s not that they, you know, can’t do, do the task, but they are going to have different triggers with these words.
Mm. I I love using the word problem. Like, and I think it’s important in the age where we really do need to be mindful of people’s background and experience of how they’ve come today to create a great environment for them. Like, we need to understand how people do that. And it’s not to say, I’m gonna give you a list of words and now let’s all write out our definition of that. It’s what you just said. I’m like, what does that mean to you? I love that.
Mihaela Berciu: Mm-Hmm. Yeah, exactly. And for example, I had a, a big issue with the word help. Because in, in school growing up, if you ask the question or if you ask the teacher for help, they would call you all the names in the world and you know that you are stupid, you are incapable, you didn’t pay attention. And, you know, it was, it was really, so I grew up, you know, never ever asking for help. So when I heard, even if I heard the world, the world help, I would be like, you know, no. Or if, if someone asked me, do you need help? No, I’m a stupid, you know, I’m not there. I love
Jenn DeWall: That. I’m not stupid <laugh>. Yeah,
Mihaela Berciu: Exactly. Cause that was, that was my relationship with that word. And there were people who were very kind in offering help and asking me if I needed help. But I, for me, that meant, you know, an insult. That meant they looked at me as, as a, you know, being, being stupid, being whatever I heard growing up. And it’s a very common and, and, and very yeah, very common word, you know, that you would never think twice of how would that impact someone else you, you know, even comes, right? Cause you
Jenn DeWall: Think it’s like, I’m here to help. Can you see that? I’m trying to help you, Mihaela! I just wanna help you.
Mihaela Berciu: Exactly. And then I would take that as a big insult and I would be like, who the hell does she think she is? You know, I mean, I’m not stupid. Why does she keep insisting to help me? You know?
Jenn DeWall: <Laugh> I love it. Sorry, continue on <laugh>.
Mihaela Berciu: Yeah, no, that’s, that’s how easy, you know, that’s how easy it it is to, to end up, start with a good intention and end up, you know, insulting someone or, or end up in some kind of conflict. And you, you don’t even understand why and, and what did just happened.
Jenn DeWall: My god, now I know, gosh, I’ve just really enjoyed this conversation, but I know that we have to wrap. And so maybe, you know, the other thing, if you’re a leader that’s sitting there like, okay, I need to be more intentional with my words. I, I really want to check for clarification that we’re on the same page. What are ways that we can build that self-awareness around the words and the language that we use on our teams? Can you do that? Or is it just more I’m describing the difference? Or would you have a protocol where you’re like, yeah, here are the common words that we actually use and then let’s set these almost as team norms, or how would you maybe advise a leadership?
How to Encourage Intentional Communication
Mihaela Berciu: It’s, it’s just help their team open, open conversations and encourage, you know, those conversations within the team as well. Especially in today’s world where people come from such different backgrounds and such different cultures and never, ever take anything for granted. Not, not even the simplest word as help or problem or success or, you know whatever, whatever l cities and having intentional conversations. It’s, it’s not as, as hard as it sounds and it’s not as very fulfilling. And the beauty of it is, it might sound like it, it, it would take longer. It actually takes a lot less because once you understand something, you’ll know, and then the future conversations will be very different and you will avoid a lot of unnecessary you know disagreements or, or, or frustration or extra hours as it happens. So, tiredness, stress all of that, it’s, it’s just by having that awareness and intention to align, to understand, and to to speak in a way that is for the other person is not, it’s not for you. It’s not about you.
Where to Find More From Mihaela Berciu
Jenn DeWall: I love this, Mihaela! Really thinking through how might this be perceived? Perception is reality. What is their perception of this word? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> mihaela. How can people get in touch with you?
Mihaela Berciu: What’s my, my website which is mihai.com, my first name and my surname.com, or all my social, all the regular social media channels where I am. Again, Mihai,
Jenn DeWall: Thank you so much for taking your time. Thank you for helping us slow down to think about how we can be more effective communication or communicators by paying attention to the power of our words. I really appreciate absolutely the conversation and your time. And thank you!
Mihaela Berciu: Thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you.
Jenn DeWall: Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of the Leadership Habit Podcast. You know, I never really thought about the word problem. I never thought about that as a word and how people might arm up. I understand that it can be a trigger word, but I never until this conversation really thought about why we need to pay attention to what that might mean as it relates to someone’s experience in life. So I really appreciated a lot of the things that I could maybe adjust in my style, such as saying something is complex versus complicated.
Now, if you enjoyed this conversation with Mihaela Berciu, or you know someone that could benefit from hearing this, maybe they’re a new leader. Maybe there’s someone that wants to improve their communication style. Share this podcast episode with them. And if you want to get in touch with Mihaela, you can find her at MihaelaBerciu.com. And she’s also everywhere on social, under her name, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And in closing, if you are looking to help develop your leaders’ communication styles to help them deliver results the first time, that’s where Crestcom can help you. So head on over to Crestcom.com. We would love to come into your organization and offer a two-hour leadership skills workshop that’s fun and engaging and will leave your leaders asking for more. Until next time, everyone.