by Colton Campbell

For Stephen Young, it’s both what you say and how you say it.

Young was the latest speaker in the BB&T Lectures in Free Enterprise series, a partnership between the University of West Georgia's Richards College of Business and the BB&T Foundation. Created eight years ago, the series generates a dialog about the ethical foundation of capitalism and free enterprise.

Stephen YoungYoung presented a portion of his acclaimed seminar, “Microinequities: The Power of Small,” stating his main point that when humans communicate, they use two methods of delivering messages.

“We denote and we connote,” Young said. “Denotation has to do with words, their specific definitions and those meanings, while connotation reveals what is really being conveyed. If I could distill this down to its essence, it’s about how the subtle things we do and say are infinitely more revealing and powerful about the nature of a message than any of the words we use on the surface.”

Those connotations, Young said, most often come in the form of microinequities and microadvantages — subtle changes in body language, attentiveness, tone of voice and other traits that offer insight into what someone is actually saying, regardless of the words they use.

Young has no shortage of expertise in his area of choice. The author of the best-selling book “Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words,” Young has consulted for more than 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies and has served as the senior vice president and chief diversity officer at JPMorgan Chase.

In the case of microinequities, Young said, even seemingly simple phrases such as “You’re missing the point” or “Take my word for it” come loaded with connotations that, if they persist over time, can subtly devalue employee contributions, leaving workers feeling marginalized and frustrated.

Conversely, microadvantages can result in employees feeling more engaged and loyal, resulting in a more dynamic, productive workplace.

“These micromessages are the foundation of human communication because they are universally understood, no matter what language you’re speaking,” Young said. “We’re mostly unaware of their pervasive power, but my purpose in this lecture is to get everyone to develop new internal filters that drive them to challenge both what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.”

Young used the example of a simple sentence like, “I didn’t say she stole the book,” putting an emphasis on each of the words in that sentence. Doing so led to six different meanings, just by changing the inflection in his voice on a different word.

“The effect this has on the workplace is nothing short of enormous,” Young said. “When this is injected across a platform it changes everything about how people feel about issues of exclusion. In your interactions with people, your greeting, your introductions, your responses in meetings, your emails, in everything you do, take into consideration that there are multiple ways to accomplish the objective, and choose the one that will be more engaging for your audience.”

Young, whose work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review and O Magazine, said no one leaving his seminar will receive countless booklets, diagrams, charts and pamphlets.

Stephen Young“I remember going to so many classes and getting all that stuff, coming back to my office, putting it in a file drawer and never looking at it again,” Young said. “That’s not what I want anyone to get out of my talk. I want to change the way people think because they’ll carry that everywhere they go and it will affect their participation in every encounter they have. I hope I’ve opened windows they’ve never been able to open before and won’t be able to close ever again.”

Young is the senior partner of Insight Education Systems, a management consulting firm specializing in leadership and organizational development services. The business provides diversity and inclusion consulting services for business at all stages of diversity development.

The BB&T Lectures in Free Enterprise focuses on core values and ethical foundations of free enterprise and issues facing business management and policy-makers. Two speakers a year are invited to UWG’s campus to provide a talk on these topics. Events are free and open to students and the general public.

“This is always an exciting series because it’s what the Richards College of Business is all about,” said Dr. Faye McIntyre, dean of the college. “Mr. Young presented a powerful message to the UWG community, and I’m thankful for BB&T’s support in bringing speakers like him to campus. He gave concrete examples we can use daily to better communicate and insights into subtle messages to build a culture where everyone feels included, engaged and valued.”

Posted on February 20, 2018