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  • Writer's pictureSenthil Kumar

Power of Positive Words

"Noblest is the Justest" - Aristotle

“It always seems impossible until it is done” (Nelson Mandela),

“Arise, awake and stop not until the goal is reached” (Swami Vivekananda)

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In the beginning was the “word” professes scriptures. Words have laid the foundation for all thought systems across the world. Words charged with utmost meaning turn into a literary work that can stand the test of time. Words manifest in many forms – axioms, parables, metaphors, stories and hymns – and form the basis of our culture, organizations and socio-economic-political systems. Religions have spread and political institutions are built with the stories and fables of mystical legends and deeds.

Words not only connote the objective phenomena that determine our lives, but also assist in the creation and enactment of the novel, imaginative or subjective ideals that shape our lives and provide meaning to our existence. In fact, the very purpose and meaning of the human existence are often governed by words and the subjective worlds that we construct with words. Words constitute the cognitive capacity – an important trait of biological order – which differentiates humans as superior and sentient in comparison to other lives on the planet. Consistent positive communications shape thoughts, behaviors and help transform individuals and organizations, and are known to greatly foster progress, change and success (Armenakis and Harris, 2002, 2009; Elving, 2005; Lewis, 2011; Marshalk, 1993; Morgan, 2006; Weick et al., 2005).

Words expand the cognitive and physical spheres of human activity, and can induce the needs and desires, and thus drive us to seek, design or pursue the products, services or lifestyles. Take for instance, the subject of “affinity” – we have abundant number of words to express this principal dimension of human relationship: love, compassion, affection, kindness, kinship, friendship, motherhood, brotherhood, fraternity, partnership, companionship and compatriotship; each word, however, takes on a new dimension bestowing the foundation for a variety of ideals, values and forms of associations. Several classical and modern philosophical works have reflected upon how words can help us imagine and create a world of new institutions and phenomena – be they are subjective or objective – that give us meaning and happiness (Cornelissen et al., 2015; Luchte, 2007; Oizerman, 1981). Similarly, organizational scholars have traced how expressive communications play a central role in the creation, diffusion and change of institutions that govern collective thoughts, intentions and behaviors (Berger and Luckmann, 1966;Searle, 1995). Seen in this light, words have potential to create quite distinct thought worlds and organizational systems and thus can expand our cultural sphere.

Figurative and metaphorical communication can be of great help in conceptualizing the abstract and vibrant changes emerging in the market-place. Markets are quite dynamic with a constant rendering of complex market segments, novel product configurations and uncommon patterns of consumer behaviors. Through right metaphors, managers can provide contextual verbalization required to capture the complex configurations or emergent outliers. As dynamic industry and market changes are often unobserved or overlooked, communication charged with provocative axioms and metaphors can play a critical role in sensitizing the managerial cognition so that the emergent social phenomena can be effectively captured for managerial analysis and decision making (Muthusamy, 2008; Newberg and Waldman, 2012; Simon, 1993; Weick et al., 2005).

From the communication and sense-making perspectives, first, we discuss the role of positive communication in terms of genuine, considerate expression of words, axioms, stories or metaphors in the functioning of organizations and markets. Second, we narrate how managerial communication involving positive stories, metaphors or axioms nurtures the social capital necessary for organizational change by spawning the shared cognitive-linguistic domains. Further, we examine the empirical link between the positive communication and organizational transformation by a two-fold analysis of survey data collected from 174 management professionals who have recently undergone the organizational change episodes such as restructuring, re-engineering, TQM adoption or new strategy implementation. The survey elicited responses on the extent and content of literal and metaphorical communications echoed by the leaders/managers during the change episode, and whether these discourses had the transforming effect on the organization in terms of resolving conflicts, overcoming resistance to change or implementing a new strategy.

With the content analysis of narratives containing metaphors, axioms and stories reported by the respondents, we unravel the underlying clusters of organizational and socio-cognitive dimensions associated with organizational transformation and demonstrate how transformation is manifested through considerate communication of positive words.

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