Words are powerful, stories even more so.  They can make us aware, lift us up, change our minds, give us hope, shock us into a new way of thinking, give us pause, inspire us, right the ship, record our memories, and set the stage for change.  Words can differentiate the free from the oppressed, the informed from the naive, the warm from the cold, and the inspired from those who feel hopeless.  Words are a gift and can be a curse – it is all up to the application of truth and the confidence of the writer.  Musicians, poets, chefs, authors, speech writers, and journalists are the historians of a time and gatekeepers to awareness.  When we read those words, we are free to think and grow – the words are a gift and writing a platform for happiness and knowledge.

Words that are well thought out, from our memory and filtered through the heart can bridge any gap that might exist between people.  Strategic words can right a wrong, mend old wounds, and help people to start fresh.  Words that fail to pass through that filter can separate those who seek to come closer, hurt and stoke the flames of fear and the bruises that result from animosity.  Words can build friendships or end them just as easily.

When words reflect on past experiences and stimulate positive memories, they can form stories that build interest, paint pictures, engage others in your shared experiences, and align those who listen with your intent and objectives.  Words are that powerful.

As chefs it is important to understand the power that words provide.  It is critical that we understand what we say and how we say it can make all the difference in how those around us feel, respond, and grow.  The right word, at the right moment can earn you respect and followership, while the wrong word can destroy trust, bruise egos, alienate workers, push aside friends, and infuriate those whose support and friendship are needed most.

When we allow the stress and frustration of the moment to erode the filter of the heart and release a word, a phrase, or a story before it has been through the process of impact analysis – then we relinquish our leadership to the sting of negative emotion.  We have all been there – that moment when words are used to attack and sting while at the same time our mind and heart is thinking: “this is wrong”.  Too late – the damage is done, and recovery is ever so difficult.  These are the times when it seems that words flow directly from emotion and are able to defy what we know to be right or wrong.  Been there – done that.

To be a leader is to learn how to control those words and those stories – to work at keeping those filters in place and give emotions a chance to settle down before we speak.  Too many times that word, the one that avoids filtering, is so destructive that the results are beyond repair.  We all need to accept the power of what we say and stay in control.

At the same time, a strategic word or story that is cognizant of the power it wields, can be used to build trust, define followership, move people to a different, positive place and unite those around us on a common mission.  When we are in control, when those filters are working as they should, then we can emerge as true leaders worthy of followership.

A simple: “great job, thank you, spot on, terrific effort, delicious, beautiful plate, outstanding work, etc.”, can raise an individual’s or team’s spirits, help to push them to new levels of excellence, elevate them through a difficult service period, and bridge the gap between impossible and possible.  The right use of words can be more powerful than any other attempt at motivation – including compensation.  You see- everyone craves acknowledgement and encouragement – it is the fuel that stokes the human motor and drives people to perform well. 

Even critique can become a positive motivator when words are used effectively.  “You know you do really exceptional work, your food is flavorful and on point with my expectations and plate presentations are beautiful, however, this particular dish misses the mark.  Let’s work together to figure out how to make it better.”  A statement such as this demonstrates to a co-worker that the chef thinks highly of a cook’s work, talent, and desire to perform at a very high level, but points to a unique situation when something just doesn’t live up to that standard.  The statement is free of emotion but focused on correcting a misstep.  The approach with the right words demonstrates that the problem is not personal but rather a collaborative one that the chef shares responsibility for and intends to collaborate to fix.  A chef without control of the filter might simply say: “This dish is crap – fix it!”  In both cases the problem is identified, but one is based on positive action and the other will embarrass and alienate the employee.   When the filter is in place and the right words are strategically put together as a story – the challenge will most likely be resolved.  Attacking people with biting words may relieve the immediate frustration that you feel, but at what price?  Sometimes the lesson learned from this type of release cannot be repaired.

“Lessons learned are like
Bridges burned
You only need to cross them but once
Is the knowledge gained
Worth the price of the pain?
Are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt?”

-Dan Fogelberg

Chefs can be great teachers when they understand the importance of communication, filtered words, and great storytelling.  People are unlikely to appreciate, learn from, or even remember words that are meant to sting, but will readily learn from effective stories that show the nature of a problem, an action or solution, and the results – good or bad.  Learn to become a storyteller, build your positive vocabulary, discover how to use those filters, take a deep breath and coach your response to others – even when it is difficult to do so.  Teach through those stories that depict examples of past situations, previous actions, and what you personally learned from it.

A chef might pull together his or her team at the end of service and relay a story that can become a reflective lesson for cooks – something that points to what took place and how the experience might be used to simply get better:

“Well, we made it through service tonight – and it wasn’t all that pretty.  This is a great team and I know that your standards are very high, so tonight was not typical and not what you normally expect of yourselves.  This happens to the best of teams, it is not uncommon, but at the same time it is not how we operate.  I remember many examples in my own past as a cook where things just seemed to get out of hand.  I have had my share of nights when it just didn’t seem to click when my timing was off, things got backed up, my mise en place wasn’t tight, and far too many dishes came back for a re-fire.  It is easy to get down on yourself, to think that somehow it is all your fault, but keep in mind that you are each part of a team and team means that you collectively own the not so perfect night and together we hold the opportunity to be better tomorrow.  Yes, I am part of the team and share in the responsibility for tonight – it is just as much on my shoulders as yours. This is not a time to beat ourselves up, it is a time to analyze the cause and work as a team to help each other fix things for tomorrow.  We are not perfect, but we are pretty damn good.  Tomorrow will be great – let’s all learn from tonight.  Thanks for being great at what you do.”

Guaranteed, each cook will remember that story, will reflect on what went wrong and how they can improve, and they will all respect the chef for talking about his or her own past mistakes and owning up to what just happened.  Years from this date they will still remember the chef’s words and the story told.  Lesson learned. This is what can happen when a chef understands the power of words and keeps that filter working as it should.


Remember the power of words

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.havestamericacues.com   BLOG

CAFÉ Talks Podcast