Language is a critical driver of the success of people, teams and ultimately organisations. Clarity, understanding, alignment and collaboration all depend on our ability to clearly articulate what we think, feel, need and want. The ability to express ourselves so we are understood is an important skill needed in any profession and indeed in any area of life.
Often I work with teams who are struggling to relate to one another and battling to reach agreement or align their efforts. It’s extraordinary how often the cause of the issue is ineffective use of language. Focused on the words used by others, people expend unnecessary energy debating points when in fact they are saying the same thing. There are times when my primary role is to act as a translator and help people to understand the message each party is trying to convey.
It’s not only the spoken word that can be a barrier to success. Often I read articles or reports that are written in such a complex way you need to be an English professor to have any hope of comprehending the information. My husband Kevin is studying psychology and often shares examples of convoluted and incomprehensible use of language that makes study both tedious and frustrating – here’s an example from an article he’s reading today:
Seriously, what does that mean?! In case you are wondering, reading the sentences either side of it does nothing to make the meaning any clearer. In fact reading the entire article does nothing to put this sentence in context and make is easy to understand.
- To use language powerfully make sure you:
- Use plain language Don’t believe the myth that fancy words make you seem smarter – if people don’t understand you they’re unlikely to be impressed and are likely to switch off
- Understand the true meaning and intent of others comments before responding
- Are succinct and share only relevant information
- Focus on your audience – remember the purpose of language is to get a message across i.e. aid awareness and understanding
- Think before you write or speak – choose the right words to convey accurate meaning
- Don’t digress from the point being discussed or conveyed
- Never avoid the point – think of those politicians who never answer a question or use a whole bunch of words that actually mean nothing. If your comment is ‘no comment’ say so.
- Don’t play power games; some see knowledge as power and don’t have a sincere desire to share what they know, only parade it around
Be mindful that at times emotions can get in the way. When you are either taken by surprise or emotionally impacted by a conversation take a moment to consider before speaking. In most circumstances there is little value in focusing on being right, proving the other person wrong and winning an argument. Avoid the common trap of saying things that you actually don’t mean.