Practical Application: Linguistic Tools for Leadership Communication

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

A variety of linguistic tools can help leaders as they try to communicate effectively with employees. In this activity, we'll cover some of the most common linguistic tools, complete with examples of how they work.

Leadership Communication

As a team leader, effective communication skills are necessary to reach an employee or a team member at the right time with the right words. Linguistic tools like the ones we'll explore below can be useful in a number of situations.

Read each example and then try to come up with an example of your own to show how you would guide a conversation effectively and persuasively.

Linguistic Tool Examples

Mind Reading

Being able to read minds doesn't mean that you have superpowers. It does mean, however, that you are anticipating what objectives the person you're speaking with might have, and you address those clearly and upfront. Mind reading relies on effective word choice to make your point.

  • Example #1: You are meeting with your team to present the new sales goal for the quarter. You know that they will be concerned about the goal so you anticipate objections upfront and then explain why the goal is attainable. You say: ''I know you think this sales goal is lofty, but with an extra team member on board it will be easy to obtain.''
  • Example #2: You are hiring a new employee, and you notice that your current employee seems nervous about the change. You anticipate her concerns and take time to explain why her job is secure. You say: ''I understand you are worried about what this new hire might mean for your role, but there is more than enough work for the two of you to share.''

Lost Performative

A lost performative occurs when you present a neutral statement as common knowledge, or a universal truth when it's actually a personal belief or thought. Because this statement is neutral and doesn't get attributed to any particular person, it is easier for the person to agree with what is being said.

  • Example #1: During a meeting, one of your employees openly states that bonus performances are really difficult for the average employee to obtain. You want employees to stay motivated so you counterbalance the employee's statement, which is somewhat negative, with a neutral response. You say: ''Nothing worth having comes easy.''
  • Example #2: You are a project leader. You make a careless mistake at work. When you manager suggests pulling you off the project, you try to convince the manager to let you stay. As part of your argument you make a statement that sounds like a universal truth, although it is really your personal belief. You say: ''Everyone deserves a second chance.''

Cause and Effect Relationships

If you want someone to understand how their actions have consequences (good and bad), cause and effect relationships as a linguistic tool are a good choice. This allows you to convey your message in a way that helps the other person see the outcome of what you're saying.

  • Example #1: You have an employee who makes a lot of errors at work due to carelessness. You want to point out the outcome or effect (the errors) and the cause (carelessness). You say: ''The errors in your work make me feel as though you aren't paying attention.''
  • Example #2: You have an employee with room to grow in several areas. You could just suggest a mentor, but you really want the employee to see the value (effect) of mentoring. You say: ''Finding a workplace mentor will help you grow and develop in your career.''


Presuppositions are ideas or beliefs that are presumed to be true before they have actually happened. A statement, then, presupposes some ''truth'' that will come to light later. That truth is not actually grounded in anything factual.

  • Example #1: You don't have any facts and figures to support your need for more employees, so you use a presupposition to convince others of something you believe. You say: ''When we hire more workers, we'll see an increase in our profits.''
  • Example #2: You are trying to make growth estimates for the next quarter. You don't have any way to gather real statistics to support your growth estimates, so you use a presupposition in your forecast. You say: ''After our competitor closes their store, more people will come to ours.''

Universal Beliefs

Universal beliefs are based on assumptions that all people believe the same thing. This tool is useful because, the comment is typically so universally believed, that the person you're talking with cannot refute it.

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