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Roswell, Ga 30076
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Introduction: Why Water Cooler Conversation Matters
In the beginning was the Word.
Considering an average person speaks 13000-16000 words a day( No, women don't talk more than men), using any of the roughly 6500 languages in the world do I still need to emphasize on the importance of language in human society and development? Even though I certainly don't want to tip my toes in the history of language, I am however fascinated with the power of this undeniable gift bestowed on us. I am flabbergasted at how much effort we put into modifying appearances, personal and public, and how negligible is the attention we pay to the theme dominating our conversations; how deeply we undermine the patterns that control our responses to the world or interpretations of incoming data.
It is rather disheartening to notice how little is being done in organizations to address this topic. An abundance of meetings and a lack of action to change the language that would keep the team growing together and doing better together. Time consuming leadership seminars and public speaking courses on how to use our hands and facial expression and we hardly listen to the effect of our own language or to the heart of the language really spoken in our organization.
Therefore, I am curious about and delving into whether we are taking advantage of this phenomenal gift, language, or turning it into a weapon.I am building my case based on a common agreement, not a rule, that language shapes our cultures, communities, relationships and workplaces, hence affecting our society and the next generations in unmeasurable ways. I am simplifying my case as “ the case of the water cooler conversation”. As a clarification, by water cooler conversation, I do not mean gossip or negative talk. For the sake of these series, this term refers to general office talk, office language, the collective language we use in daily life which we naturally take to work with us. Just trying to make it sound a bit more fun!
Robert Kegan phrases the importance of language beautifully when he writes,” The forms of speaking we have available to us regulate the forms of thinking, feeling, and meaning making to which we have access, which in turn constrain how we see the world and act in it.”
Let’s break it down!
Imagine your world being a stage. A stage from which you play; your actions, your relationships, your responses, your choices are all formed on this stage. On this stage you are constantly acting the act of your life. The script? The script is continuously being written, changed, modified and re-written by your thoughts, your feelings and the way you interpret your inner and outer world. And what shapes these thoughts, feelings and interpretations is the way you speak, the choice of words, the kind of phrases you choose to express yourself about anything in life. Your language.
Does it look like Alice in the rabbit hole? Perhaps it does. Perhaps not.
Let’s break it down even more with an example.
I have a wonderful friend. We try to talk once or twice a week via phone calls. Not because we are old fashioned( which we are) but because we feel more connected. I have noticed that during our conversations there’s an undeniable undertone of complaint and the theme of the conversation usually leads to getting upset at so and so since they did so and so. Can you imagine this way of talking? What kind of feelings and emotions would you say are present with it? Body language? How would you describe the stage she is acting her life from? How does she see the world from this stage? How does she act in it?
Yet another case;
I am interviewing employees and attending staff meetings for Organization XX to assist them in putting employee development plans in place. In most interviews there’s a common theme of complaint for not having enough time, being loaded with responsibility, working over time, taking up more work than one can handle. Sounds familiar? What kind of company culture does this theme create? What is the story that can be told about this culture? What kind of shift can happen in the way people in this company talk that would create more effective, efficient and productive work environment? What is the script written by this company culture?
Reflecting? What are some of the ways people speak at your organization? What are some underlying messages this language conveys? How are these messages bringing benefit to the organization? How are they affecting the employee turn over? All valid questions!
I leave you with this quote from Robert Kegan hoping that you come back for the next blog where I introduce some diagnostic of the way we talk and discover ways of shifting this spoken language into meanings that will enhance the work place and leave it more efficient and productive.
“ All leaders are leading language communities. Though every person, in any setting, has some opportunity to influence the nature of the language, leaders have potentially greater access and opportunity to shape, alter, or ratify the existing language rules. In our view, leaders have no choice in this matter of being language leaders; it just goes with the territory.” ~ Robert Kegan