There seems to be quite a bit of interest in language right now. Many people, including me, have believed for years that words are powerful in that they not only pass along a message but also shape the way you think.  Or perhaps the way you think shapes the words you use.  In either case, words and thinking are intimately intertwined which has implications every time you say, or write, anything.

The convergence of new research in this area and the worldwide omnipresent instantaneous nature of modern communications has led to much musing on the implications for personal relationships, religious and political values and discourse, focus and attention, and the future of our ability to actually be able to spend any time just talking to each other without interruption. Then there is the impact of our growing understanding of words and thinking on improving leadership and management.

It is a wonderful thing to be able to get a clearer picture of how to improve your personal relationships, bridge the religious and political divides, and learn how to focus your attention, but, most people spend a huge percentage of their waking hours engaged in work of some sort.  Taking the knowledge gained and applying it to improving communication in work situations should not only improve the results of work activities but skills learned just might carry over into all interactions.

T. M. Luhrman, anthropology professor at Stanford, recently wrote a blog in The New York Times called Do as I Do, Not as I Say. It’s mostly about Democrats trying to figure out evangelical voters. it’s quite interesting from this standpoint but the reason I mention it here is that it winds up giving a good explanation about how to talk to anyone you want to hear what you say…and be willing to consider it. 

It’s simple to sum up: use a language they can hear. Forget the words you want to use and speak in words that connect with the listener.  Forget your assumptions about how things work and work within the assumptions of the person you want to reach. I am not saying to change what you believe but merely to rethink how you express it. 

In Utne Reader I noticed an article by Michael A Stusser, Speak No Evil, Tweet No Evil. Apparently he is a self described “sarcastic scribe” who after years of omnipresent negativity decided to do something about it. In the article he wanders around as he discusses his experience but ultimately notices several things.

Silence is a wonderful way to give yourself time to think. And time to think enables you to ensure you say the right thing in the right way, right way being in the way it will be received most effectively.  Or, as Tulku Yeshi Gyatso, a Tibetan monk says, “Words not like horse. Horse you can catch once it is out and gone. Words you can’t catch.”

Stusser also discovers the power of compliments. Positive interactions with people and getting along with them are often as simple as saying nice things to them.  He experiments with saying a compliment to every person he meets and finds…they light up. More importantly, they then engage you in a real conversation and share stories of their life.

And positivity is contagious. It works not only in person also on the internet. Connect with people by bringing some light into their day and you’ve entered their world in way that allows you to share what you’d like them to hear.  And they are more likely to hear it now that you’ve established the initial good relationship.

Then there’s the book, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by Abhijit V Banerjee and Esther Duflo. They suggest the novel idea that people are better served by understanding what is important to them and adjusting your support to take this into account rather than deciding what they want and trying to force it on them.  And therein lies the reason for so many failed aid programs.

There’s a common thread in all these musings on things non-business: it’s not what you think, but what the other thinks. It’s not the language you use that makes you comfortable and fits within your biases and assumptions, but the language the other needs to hear to connect with their biases and assumptions.

If you want to improve you leadership and management ability, enter their world. Learn their language. Understand their reality. Put your life aside and enter their reality.

It’s not them who is the problem, it’s you.


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