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Words Matter: What’s Your Headline?

Whats Your Headline 2

By Dr. Teresa Peterson

In life, we all face situations when the heat feels turned up.

Whether it’s feeling stuck or challenged by a person or a situation.

Or needing to have a difficult conversation or make a tough decision.

Or feeling the pressure to spin all the plates at work or at home.

Or trying to navigate change as an organization.

Or . . . you get the picture.

These experiences are complex and part of being human. When they pop up, it’s helpful to remember that how we act is a byproduct of how we think—specifically the words we use, even in our own heads.

What a responsibility and what an opportunity. It’s incredible what clarity a little reframe can offer, and we invite you to try this one the next time the heat is rising.

Ask this question: What’s your headline?

Here’s how it works: Say we’re facing a moment where we know we really need to show up. Before we act, we consider what the headline would be in the hypothetical news story about it later. Would it read, for example, “Woman Puts Head in Sand Despite People Counting on Her” or “Leader Navigates Challenges with Human-First Approach?”

Would it be: “Business Owner Burns Out” or “Entrepreneur Incorporates Rest into Recipe for Success?”

Would it be: “Company Refuses to Address Hurtful Behavior of Profit-Driving Manager” or “Company Says Employees will be Treated with Respect–and Means It?”

Would it be: “Leader Discusses Diversity to be Seen as a Good White Person,” or “Organization Retools Policies to Increase Equity and Belonging?”

(By the way, for more on that last topic, we strongly recommend reading The Color of Emotional Intelligence by Farah Harris, which we’ll be discussing that more in the month of February.)

Do you see how powerful this reframe can be? Note that though it’s extremely helpful as one, asking the headline question doesn’t have to be an internal-only exercise. It can also be a helpful question to facilitate group discussion or to ponder as a team the next time you have to make a decision.

The point of building this practice is to remind us that we have choices and that those choices directly impact our experiences and outcomes. That’s why one of the most important parts of any good headline is the verb, after all. What is happening or going to happen? What is the action? When you’re considering your headline, focus on that part first.

It’s also true that ultimately, choosing our words carefully can help us speak more kindly to and about ourselves, which can improve not only our work but also how we feel when we’re doing it—which, as we know, matters SO MUCH. (For more, read: Celebrating the Catch: Strategies for Promoting Self-Compassion and Positive Change in the Workplace.)

What’s your headline going to be today? Tell us. We truly want to hear from you and value your connection.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Director of Learning and Development | Website

Dr. Teresa Peterson is the Director of Learning and Development for Sarah Noll Wilson, Inc. In her daily work, she serves as Sarah’s key content collaborator. Teresa enjoys facilitating, researching, and is passionate about applying best practices for learning to make our experiences meaningful, engaging, and accessible for all types of learners. Teresa holds a Doctorate in Education from the University of Northern Iowa and brings over twenty years of experience teaching, facilitating, and leading to our team. Our clients love Teresa’s grounded energy, depth of thought, and ability to listen deeply.

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