Healthy Leaders


Stop Dieseling & Speak to The Heart

Dan LovagliaDan Lovaglia

Stop Dieseling & Speak to the Heart

Have you ever found yourself fumbling over your words when you knew it mattered? Why is it that when the stakes are high, we let our mouths run off instead of making sure it counts? Leaders drone on while giving feedback to direct reports. Teachers turn simple wisdom into complicated lectures with students. Coaches and mentors make a mess of teachable moments with players and protégés. And, parents become wordy fools during heart-to-heart talks with sons and daughters. In moments like these, we need a regulator; a reminder that helps us hold back so what we say can strike a chord.

Dieseling (noun)

  1. the continued operation of an internal combustion engine after the ignition is turned off. (Source: Merriam-Webster)
  2. Informal: when someone continues to talk in hopes that they will eventually say something profound. (Source: Tim VandenBos)

My friend Tim introduced me to the term “dieseling” about 10 years ago when I was at Camp Paradise for the first time with my oldest son. On day three of our church’s father-child camp, he instructed 60 of us dads on how to affirm each boy in our cabin before heading home. Tim simply said, “Prepare what you want to say and say it. Don’t diesel.” He went on to explain his definition of dieseling as “when someone continues to talk in hopes that they will eventually say something profound.”

As Tim’s simple wisdom floated through the air, it immediately resonated with me as a husband, father, and leader. Too often I am long-winded or loose with my words and it affects the people I love – my family, friends, colleagues, and more. The sharing of succinct heartfelt words of affirmation among dads and kids marked me that morning. Today, “stop dieseling” still speaks to me; it keeps me in check so my words can make a difference. If you want to deeply impact people close to you, here are four steps you can take to stop dieseling and speak to their heart.

Step #1: Be Alert

The first step toward speaking to the heart is to pay attention to people with genuine curiosity and care. You may think people don’t notice how distracted you are, but they can tell based on the questions you ask, how you respond in the moment, and whether you make eye contact or not. When you take responsibility to be alert, to watch, listen and learn from the people around you, you will strengthen your ability to stop dieseling when it’s time for words to come out of your mouth.

Step #2: Be Clear

Whether you’re responsible for leading a company, family, team, or church, your words won’t mean much if they’re generic or hazy. “Good job” doesn’t speak to the heart as much as, “When you came in early, I really appreciated the extra help,” or “I can tell that you love your sister by how you try out her ideas.” Dieseling happens most often when we want to say something meaningful but don’t prepare what we intend to say in advance. As Plato said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” The next time you anticipate interacting with someone you lead, think about what you want to say beforehand. Step back and answer, “How can I can encourage, equip, or empower their heart with a few clear, personal, sincere words?”

Step #3: Be Brief

Confession: I use too many words (but you already knew that). If you tend to think out loud like me, it won’t be easy to stop dieseling at first. However, you can curb this by taking steps two and three seriously: be clear and be brief. In other words, “Say it simply and simply say it.” We often think that over-explaining ourselves brings clarity, when actually it muddies the waters of what we were originally trying to say. Keep your comments short and then wait to see if the person has questions or needs clarification. When you stop dieseling, you’ll be able to speak to the heart in a way that hits home.

Step #4: Be Quiet

Being quiet might be the step that trips up the most leaders. It’s hard to resist the urge to speak up, solve a problem, steer a conversation, or steal the show. To counteract this, we must decide in advance to stop talking after saying what we needed to say. This is because clear, concise, caring words need time and space to land if they’re going to penetrate the heart. When we stop dieseling, we allow what we’ve said to speak deeply for a few moments as both our hearts sit in silence.

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