Lately, we’ve had several opportunities to observe and assess the importance of words in one’s conversation. Just ask the recent young election hopeful who had to bow out of the campaign. His past derogatory words about women on Twitter struck a lightening blow to his political future. Having countless female friends and giving credit to his mother just wasn’t enough to gain public support and smooth this one over.
One reason for this type of uproar is our society perceives that words reflect our personal beliefs and values. So, if someone uses sexist, foul or belittling language, they are at the same time, delivering a message about themselves.
However, this naive man is not alone. Just look at the American candidates involved in the presidential primary races.
I’m sure there are many people who are embarrassed that language is creating such a circus. These candidates are acting like vulgar children trying to best one another with mean one-liners.
Yet, at least one candidate using profanity, racist and crass colloquial verbiage is still appealing to a large group of voters. Why is that?
Perhaps the reason is directly related to the fact it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. And, just as a speaker’s words suggest personal values, so too is listening reflected by a person’s values and beliefs. That’s why one candidate will appeal to a group of people while another cannot.
Then to compound communication issues, we also now have the Internet. With the Internet age, the old adage, "Time is long while memory is frail," no longer applies.
Words become memory locked up in the Internet and can come back to haunt someone years later. And since words represent values, if an inappropriate old comment surfaces, it can destroy someone’s reputation and credibility in seconds.
In today’s day and age, and as evidenced by the quick fall of disgraced local Liberal candidate Jamie Hall, competitors are searching for anything to discredit a competitive candidate. Of course, in some cases, they will find enough evidence to sink a candidate.
Yet what do language and words mean to us in everyday life, outside the glamour and clamor of an election campaign?
What effect does language have at work? How can we use words and language to create a positive work world and positive relationships?
From a management point of view, words and language are important to developing trust and building and inspiring teams.
Communication is important to developing strong customer relationships. Words are the tools managers can use to plant seeds and nurture ideas to success.
For individuals, words can influence the success of a job interview, increase the ability to make friends at work and develop positive collegial relationships.
Words are the tools people use to develop and/or improve personal relationships and create emotional intimacy. In other words, words are powerful.
So what are some of the key communication strategies everyone can use to be more successful in life and work? In addition to respecting people for who they are, the following strategies will help you speak the language of your listeners and become a better communicator.
Understand the listener — before you speak, know who you are talking to. What is their background and/or experience with your topic? Do they have the same vocabulary, similar interests or experience? Understanding the listener helps you to choose the right communication style and methods.
Keep it simple — use common, everyday plain words rather than trying to impress people with five-syllable words they won’t understand without a dictionary. Big words simply cloud the issue and cause people to be suspicious of your message.
Use short sentences — short sentences make your point clearer. Long sentences cause the reader to lose attention. People will forget what was initially stated. Short sentences keep readers and listeners alert. They’ll remember what you’ve said. As well, when you pause at the end of a sentence, the listener will have time to digest what was stated.
Be credible — taking credit inappropriately or exaggerating will destroy your credibility. Be sure your content, body language and voice tone match because people can easily sense credibility issues.
Be consistent — if you continually flip-flop by stating one belief and then changing your mind, people will become suspicious. They won’t know where you are coming from. Consistency builds credibility.
Add texture — using words that help people put a picture in their mind makes your presentation and/or statements more memorable. Use words that sound good together to create emotion.
Be specific — if you are going to use facts, then be sure to provide an answer for each of the common five Ws: who, what, when, where and why. This gives a listener the whole picture.
Ask questions — even those that don’t require an answer, but which push the listener to form their own answer. Think about why you are asking a question and then decide on the right person to answer your inquiry. Ask opened-ended versus simple yes/no questions.
Avoid jargon — and/or acronyms that might be common to your industry sector. Shorthand terms are easily misunderstood and often alienate people. When someone doesn’t understand, they stop listening.
Avoid slang words — slang phrases and/or words such as "a dime a dozen" and/or "cool" or "sweet" at the end of every sentence should be avoided. This causes misunderstanding and is annoying. Also be aware that since different generations have their own set of slang words, be sure your audience will understand yours.
Avoid word "tags" — tags are words or phrases tagged onto the end of a sentence that only serve to discount what was just said. For instance, the phrase, "It’s a nice day today, isn’t it?" asks the listener for confirmation and discounts what was said. This phrase takes power away.
Watch your emojis — icons known as emojis embedded in text messages are quickly becoming a problem. These suggest a tone for each message, but can be misinterpreted as threats. So be careful about choosing between guns and roses.
While the Internet has changed our communication strategies, face-to-face communication is still critical to relationship success both at work and at home.
However, just because we can talk doesn’t mean we can communicate effectively. Effective and persuasive communication requires thought, strategy and the right choice of words — and now the right choice of emojis.