Communication is always a top priority. Brokers often want their agents to communicate more effectively and professionally. The best way to make that happen? Lead by example.
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Language is powerful, says Jo Anne Preston, a workforce and organizational development expert and author of Lead the Way in Five Minutes a Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team. The words you use to interact with your agents can make all the difference. That’s why she urges being thoughtful and intentional about the words you use and the delivery of what you’re saying.

Although some language might seem harmless, its usage could make members of your team feel disrespected, disengaged, uncomfortable or excluded. Here are eight words and phrases Preston recommends nixing from your work vocabulary.


Stay away from “subordinates” and other language that could make your team feel diminished, suggests Preston. Instead, describe staff members by their profession and include a compliment, like “our top agent who works in Kansas City.” Or try alternatives, such as “my team,” “my colleagues,” “frontline employees,” or “folks who do great work here.”


By saying “leader” instead of “manager,” you’ll highlight a positive aspect of overseeing others—working to inspire them—rather than focusing on the power differential. “By describing someone as a leader, it’s like giving them a compliment,” says Preston. “You’re saying you’re not just a manager by your title, but a leader by who you are.”


Don’t assume your audience will know every acronym, says Preston. If they’re unfamiliar with a term, they might feel foolish asking for an explanation and could then tune out, she adds. “Every time you use an acronym, the listener’s brain has to sidetrack to figure out what it’s about while you’re still talking,” she adds, “which means they won’t be paying attention to what you say afterward.”

Preston equates using an aconym to a high school math class where, if a participant spends too much time trying to understand the first step, they’ll miss the second step and won’t be able to produce the answer to the problem.

I’m a perfectionist

If you describe yourself as a perfectionist, you might inadvertently send a message to your team that they, too, must operate as perfectionists, which holds them to unattainable standards, says Preston. “They should be able to openly discuss their mistakes without fear of ridicule or overly high expectations.” Instead, use language like “striving for excellence” and “working hard and doing your best,” she suggests.


If it weren’t for agents, brokers wouldn’t have a business, and it’s important as leaders to acknowledge that. The team helps make the brokerage successful. “It’s human nature to sometimes forget to thank people,” says Preston, who overheard her manager taking credit for her work years ago and resolved to never repeat the practice. By using “we” and “us” and sharing the credit, you’ll increase unity and help your employees feel like an integral part of your team.

The Girls

Subtlety is important and sometimes overlooked in communication. Referring to women as “girls” is one such instance that’s often overlooked. Calling a grown woman a girl might feel belittling, Preston says. It could send a message as a leader that you do not see the person as professional or someone to be taken serious. Plus, it’s important not to assume or assign a specific gender to someone, as this might cause harm to someone on your team who identifies as nonbinary or otherwise.

You Guys

Even though excluding females is likely not the speaker’s intention, this phrase technically leaves them out. And again, the term is gendering. Instead, say “everyone,” “folks,” “all the people on my team,” or “y’all.”


Using specialized language can cause listeners to tune out, says Preston. You want to make sure that your message is accessible to those listening so that they can take in your message. “Watch for any glazed-over looks or signs of distraction,” she counsels. When in doubt, ask yourself if a general audience would be able to understand what you’re saying

Talking Tips

Aim to speak in ways that will build up your team, Preston suggests. Try to make them feel respected, included, engaged, motivated, valued, heard, safe, and comfortable. Here’s how.

  • Use a person’s name. It’s a more personal connection and lets them know you cared enough to learn their name. Also, make sure you pronounce names correctly.
  • Say “thank you” often. Always acknowledge exemplary work or when someone is trying their best. It might seem minor to you, but this kind of recognition goes a long way.
  • Listen first. “Sometimes, the higher up we get, the poorer our listening skills get,” says Preston. To remind yourself to give your team space to talk, use the acronym WAIT—“Why Am I Talking?”
  • Pause. Instead of feeling you need to provide answers immediately, consider saying, “Let me think about that and get back to you because your question is important,” suggests Preston. Your team will feel you hear and value them.
  • Be open. If a team member gives you negative or trying feedback, try to manage your defensiveness and thank them for speaking up, recommends Preston. Practice the talking tips from above: Pause, thank them for their feedback and ask them how you can communicate better with them in them in the future.
  • No one’s perfect. Remember that you’re a human being and you might make mistakes when communicating with your team. That’s okay, and if you don’t use the right language, start with an apology that is intentional and sincere. Then, commit to communicating better the next time.