This post by A Cup of Jo presents a wonderful way to teach children how to jump into a conversation without interrupting. When you start out studying language and discourse analysis, you often look to children--and pay attention to when they "disrupt"--to identify the "hidden" rules of conversation. Certainly, knowing when to jump in and take a turn at talk is a skill we are not born with. With time (and some nudges from mom and dad, etc.), we learn to listen for the context, the non verbals, etc., and eventually we get it. Most of the time in a conversation, only one person is talking. Thanks to A Cup of Jo for the great tip!
“Okay, love you, bye.”
He hung up the phone, and realized he’d just professed his love to a CLIENT! This is a true story, as told by my friend Ron, about a colleague at work. (Perhaps it’s happened to you?)
For many, “I love you,” is conversation closer. It works like, “Goodbye!” It has its place at the end of many phone conversations or short discussions. It sends a little love. It wraps things up. It works beautifully, as long as it’s not misdirected (i.e., to a client). That misdirection can happen when “love you” becomes routine—when “love you” fills the same conversational place as “bye,” a word with a lot less heart.
While I love spreading love, I urge you, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, to put the meaning (and heart) back into these precious words. At least for your Valentine...Agreed?
(P.S. I don’t know how Ron’s colleague resolved things with his client. As my friend tells the story, it ends with ridicule from the cubicle-mates who were within earshot of the gaffe.)
Years ago, I worked for a U.S. university study abroad program in Madrid. Living abroad—if you do it right—pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you ache for the familiar. You learn about your creature comforts, your quirks, and your hot buttons. And that’s where you grow.
In that job, my primary role was to keep students feeling safe enough that they could dare to “do it right,” that is, be adventurous and go exploring, try new foods and hobbies—and journal, talk through, and process the experience…so they could learn. (It was study abroad, after all.) As a general rule, I talked in terms of ‘cultural values,’ ‘practices,’ and history. I didn’t make lists of cultural dos/don’ts….However, there were a few dos/don’ts we taught students right away:
In flamenco, the dancer is part of the band. With his/her stomping/clapping, he/she is the percussion. If eager tourists get carried away and clap along with the dancers, they can redirect the song. Tuning into this cultural norm about ‘when to clap’ is not so much a cultural do/don’t. It’s about knowing how to communicate. It’s about knowing when you’re part of the conversation vs. a ratified listener.
When you’re a child and speak out of turn, you might get shushed. In those instances, you’re a ratified listener, and you probably don’t know how to sense when it’s your turn to speak. After years of coaching on how to get a word in edgewise, children figure it out. We all do, eventually. As a tourist at your first flamenco show, you might not think to follow the locals’ lead. Or the house may be packed with tourists. If that’s the case, where do you get your cue?
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
**Click here to visit the Corporate B.S. Generator (image above).**
Every community has its lingo.
(If you don't believe me, just ear hustle on a group of teenagers the next time you are in line at the movies. Assuming you're not a teenager yourself, you may just learn a word or two!)
Nonetheless, making fun of "in-group" language, whether you call it jargon or slang, is a common human reaction. Why? Noticing how *others* talk helps us (in turn) identify *ourselves.*
Our ability to draw on "different ways" of speaking helps us build relationships. Depending on who you're talking to, and what the setting is, you can "play up" certain phraseology or pronunciation in order to send the meta message that, "I'm like you" or "I get you." Linguists study how we "style shift" depending on who we are speaking to, and depending on the context of the conversation. We vary our style all the time. It's part of being "successful" in life. If you address a police officer who has pulled you over for speeding in the same way that you console a fussy baby, you might provoke a misunderstanding...or worse!
My first semester of grad school, I wrote a paper on corporate jargon. In the years prior, I had taken notes during business meetings, as I noticed "new" phrases and words that I associated with the "corporate world," the "management consulting world," or the "world of government contracting." My anecdotal observation was that, the higher you climbed the corporate ladder, the more "strong" your corporate "accent." I was desperately curious to find out if there was a correlation between being "proficient" in jargon and career success.
So, I designed a short survey to investigate...Nearly ninety colleagues, at all levels in the organization, responded to questions designed to
1. Gauge their attitudes toward the "jargon"
2. Invite them to identify words/phrases they associated with "our lexicon"
3. Determine which happened more often: Did they use the jargon more than others, or did others use it more than they did?
The project was therapy for me, and it turned out to be a huge empathy-fest for my colleagues/informants. The survey's high response rate (over 80%!) signaled to me that I was not the only one who was intrigued by this interesting phenomenon. The list of words and phrases and commentary signaled that I was not the only one who felt a certain dis-ease (or disgust!) with "our lexicon."
The most interesting result was related to item number (3.) above: 83% of respondents indicated that it is their colleagues, not they themselves, who are using the jargon. There are many possible explanations for this result, including lack of self awareness, denial, and flaws with my survey sampling and survey design.
What do you think?
Over time, words shift in meaning. Take the word "wireless," for example. It started out as a noun that means radio. Now, well, you know what wireless means.
As society, culture, and technology evolve, we sometimes need to stretch our words to describe the concepts in our world… Sometimes we innovate and coin new words. Sometimes we assign new meanings to--or rework the meanings of--"old" words.
Marketers can play on word meanings--and even provoke a word shift--with their clever messaging. Lately, I have been noticing the word "naked" used in a new way, for example:
As a marketing word, "naked" is certainly an attention grabber! While the meaning used to be more narrow (e.g., limited to "naked body" or "the naked truth"), it's expanded to fill a gap in our whole foods vocabulary. Now, "naked" means pure, uncoated, natural.
How else will we use starting using it?
For more on language change, read: http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/yourvoice/language_change2.shtml
What does American English sound like to someone who doesn't speak English?
Prisencolinensinainciusol, a song by Italian Adriano Celentano, answers that question. Take a look at the video. What do you hear?
Inspired by the theme of "incomprehension," Celentano composed this song using the sounds of American English--and some actual English words--in a jumbled, nonsensical way. The result is a glimpse at what we sound like to someone who can't understand us.
When it came out in the early 1970s, the song was a big hit in Europe. For more background, listen to this NPR Interview with Celentano (November, 2012).
It's been a while since I was surrounded by people I could not communicate with. Does the song make you recall a time when you struggled to make yourself understood?
Many thanks to Maria Checchia-Ciazza for this Guest Post:
You want to stop conversation at a party? Tell someone you’re a stay-at-home mom (SAHM). Unless the person you’re speaking to is a SAHM herself, you’ll get one, maybe two weak questions back, such as, “How old are your kids?” Then, the person politely excuses him/herself to go grab another drink.
Why? Because a SAHM just sounds so darn boring!
First, there were "housewives," then "homemakers." And it was only in the early 1990s, when women rightly objected to both of those because they made raising children more about the home than the kids, did we start using the term “stay-at-home mom.” To me, all these terms feel like a kick in the pants.
Is there a way to describe mothers and their relationship with the paid workforce without insulting them?
Stay-at-home mother? “Most of them are never home. Spend hours as unpaid taxi drivers!”
Working mother? “Of course, we are working every minute of every day!”
Non-working mother? “Seriously? No sick days allowed!”
Full-time mother? “How can you clock your hours? Whether I am at home or work, I am always a mother!”
Here’s another thought. How about the fact that society never feels the need to “label” fathers with “working” terms?
I would suggest that a replacement term has to meet two criteria. First, that it apply to men as well as women. Second, that it include those who are parents and those who are not. Our social ideal should be a work/life model where everyone shapes a career that includes times where we work full-force and times when we kick back, and our words should be consistent with that. They should embrace the sense of ebb and flow, more and less that are the truth of most of our lives, rather than the stop and start, one or the other, that are unrealistically divisive.
Aren’t we, as a culture, free to come up with a new word to refer to stay-at-home parents? Here are some I've heard: “domestic goddess,” “primary caregiver,” and “domestic engineer.”
Maybe, we should simply change the term SAHM and make it the French, “C’est une mere chez soi.”
Whatever the term, it’s past time we find one. Any suggestions?
I was headed to Italy with a dear friend who had never been to Europe. "I've heard a lot about gelato," she said. "What flavors do they have? Just chocolate and vanilla, or other flavors?"
Her questions reminded me that chocolate and vanilla are the standard, "basic" flavors you find in the U.S. A small ice cream shop might only have those two options, and you'd expect a larger shop to offer chocolate and vanilla (by default) plus other options.
More deeply, my friend's questions made me reflect on what's "standard" or "plain"--and how that's culturally-bounded.
In the U.S., we refer to something as "plain vanilla" to indicate the option that has little embellishment or elaboration. For example, a "plain vanilla" outfit, car, or house is the simplest version offered. As an expression, "plain vanilla" holds a lot of cultural meaning.
Incidentally, in Italy, you're just as likely to encounter a small gelato shop that offers sour cherry, hazelnut, or nougat as you are to see "plain" chocolate. Vanilla, on the other hand, is pretty exotic. The standard, "unmarked" base flavor is "gelato alla crema," made with milk, sugar, and egg. Vanilla, as an aroma, is as noteworthy in Italy as rosewater or orange blossom would be in the U.S.
(Needless to say, my friend and I both enjoyed all the flavors we tried!)
What expressions do you use that reveal your cultural frame or bias? How might these expressions translate across cultures? What do they reveal about your expectations of "how things should always be?"
We’ve been using the phrase “in this economy” to refer to state of the economy.
A couple examples that might sound plausible to you:
Built into the expression, “in this economy,” is the understanding that we are facing an economic situation where there’s little to no growth, unemployment is high, and poverty is on the rise. In sum, times are tough.
We can agree on what “in this economy” means, but why do we say, “in this economy?” It’s always interesting to think about what we’re choosing to say—and all the alternatives. What are we not saying? Why not say, “the current economic situation?” Why not say, “recession” or “depression,” or “crisis?”
Linguists look at a phrase like “in this economy” and notice the word “this.” It’s a term that reflects “deixis,” or situates the phrase in space and time. Depending on the speaker and the context, terms like “this” and “that” attach themselves to different meanings.
In the expression, “in this economy,” the word “this” does two things:
Saying “in this economy” is different from saying “current economy,” which speaks to a time in place (now) and presumes that, with time, the economic situation might change.
To what extent is how we think about the economy shaped by the currency of the phrase “in this economy?”
(I am not crazy enough to think that an economic crisis can pass with a slight mindset/language change, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.)
Years ago, we invited my uncle and family to dinner. The meal was delicious. My mom is an excellent cook.
My uncle commented that the meal was “restaurant style,” and my mom took offense. Was it a compliment? What did he mean by “restaurant style?”
At the time, no one asked him to clarify, and, years later, the family debate on the topic (still) sounds like this:
· My mom is certain that her brother was not impressed. To my mom, a home cook takes care to prepare a meal with respect for quality and tradition; whereas, restaurants “throw things on a plate” to turn a profit.
· I (and others) suspect he was complimenting the meal (at best) or inferring that the dishes were new or different (at worst). In Italy, restaurants are places where you’re introduced to a new flavor or a fresh spin on a traditional dish. You eat out to enjoy something you cannot (or would not) make yourself.
We’ll never know for sure if this was a cross-cultural misunderstanding or the case of an ungrateful guest.
How could a brother and sister have such a misunderstanding?
My mom grew up in Italy, but has lived in the U.S. for over fifty years. Her brother has lived in Italy his whole life. They see each other infrequently, when my family visits Italy.
It’s possible that the cultural lens through which each of them is filtering the term “restaurant style” is different. I suspect that my mom’s cooking skills don’t factor into the discussion at all. It’s all about the cultural value you attribute to restaurants and eating out.
Clearly, there’s mixed opinion on the topic.
In the U.S., marketers play to both camps—those of us who wish we could prepare a meal as well as our favorite restaurants do, and those of us who long for home-cooked meals. A quick walk down any grocery store aisle will display some products boasting “home style” and others promising “restaurant style.”
Which is your bias? How might it influence your shopping choices? Or your comments to a gracious host?
I didn't catch the guy's name at first, but the voice mail said, "I need to take a look at a no cool."
For a second, I was puzzled. (Who or what is "no cool?") Then, I remembered that we'd put in a service request to get the air conditioner (AC) checked. I contextualized a little..."no cool" must be industry jargon for "broken AC unit." Got it!
The voice message made me smile for a second, because, after I translated it, I realized help was on the way...during a very hot summer. Then I began thinking about the feedback I wanted to provide the technician:
The first bullets can be assuaged by some good customer service, professionalism, and empathy.
Just as important is the last bullet: We aren't speaking the same language. And that's adding to our stress and overall experience with your service guys. It also makes it hard to trust that we're making a good decision in authorizing repairs. (Read: in how we're spending money and taking care of our house.) Please, explain it in plain English.
In your business, what jargon terms or phrases do you say to customers or clients? What's the impact to the customer experience? (If you aren't sure, have you ever asked them?) How could you be more clear?
It's 2003, and I'm working for a university study abroad program in Madrid. I'm talking to Paco, our art history professor. He looks at one of our students, a Bulgarian woman. "She really sounds like a Spaniard," Paco comments.
"I know! Her Spanish is excellent," I agree.
"Yes, she has a great command of the language," Paco said. "But it's her voice that's really authentic. She has a deep, raspy voice. That's what Spanish women her age sound like."
I filed this away in my mental "cross-cultural reflections" folder...
Years later, I worked in corporate training and focused on women's professional development programs. Of all the topics I designed trainings for, communication was by far the most popular. (I'd average 30% higher attendance for any topic related to "how to sound like a leader" as compared to other topics like "mentoring" or "networking.") Clearly, communications skill building was in demand.
What do you talk about in a training session on effective communication at work?
When you focus on women in the workplace, it's a complex and nuanced topic (that's much more broad than this blog post), but the notion of pitch/tone is essential. In the U.S., in a professional setting, women are taken more seriously when they speak from the belly, vs. the throat. High-pitched voices are either filtered out, dismissed, or lose credibility. They may read "too emotional."
As I hear the occasional international news interview with women from around the world, I think about how, culture by culture, women are socialized to speak with a certain pitch. High-pitched voices may be considered sweet and feminine in some cultures, whereas raspy, deep voices may be feminine in others. We are socialized to learn what's right. Perhaps by our mothers and sisters. Perhaps at a training session at work.
In a news interview, what's the impact of a soundbite of a woman who sounds shrill?
How does this shape the viewer's opinion of the woman's point of view? To what extent does it detract from her credibility?
How does the sound of the women's comment impact our opinion on the particular issue the news story is covering? (Or...extrapolating a little...on how we view politics? On how we vote?)
I have a couple early childhood memories of judging others based on language:
These people were all speaking English, and overall we didn't have trouble understanding one another. The differences were subtle; however, as a child, I quickly picked up on them. It was just enough "data" for young me to make the assessment: WEIROs!
As an adult whose work has focused on fostering intercultural communication, it's embarrassing to admit to the fact that these small language differences caused me to feel some distance from these otherwise lovely people. I knew that I spoke correctly. I thought they used some kind of low-fidelity copy of my language. And I thought they were missing something. I asked myself, What's wrong with them? How is it that they don't know the *right* words?
(Clearly, I was missing a big piece of the story as it relates to the many regional varieties of English, and all the glorious diversity of accents, words, and grammar. I was also missing perspective on diversity dynamics...fortunately, that would come later in life!)
These examples are personal to me, but perhaps you have a similar example?
The most striking examples of prejudice can show up when we interact with "others" who are, on the surface, not that different from ourselves. (My cousins share my DNA. They speak English. We have the same last name.) Based on my expectations and assumptions, (e.g., I thought we'd "speak the same language"), I felt discomfort with the differences that showed up in our everyday interactions.
What similar experiences can you share?
The past few "greeters" I've encountered as I've walked into big stores have not greeted me. I've initiated the greeting. Just seems odd!
From a language standpoint, greetings are a "couplet." There's the first offering (from person 1), e.g., Hello, Good morning, etc., and the second part, or "person 2's" reply, Hi, How are you, etc.
It's almost a reflex for person 2 to reply, once the first phrase is offered. In the case of a greeting at a store entrance, it engages the customer, it makes you feel less anonymous, and presumably personalizes your shopping experience.
But...if I'm the one doing the greeting (as the customer), I don't know if that's the case!
I resent the fact that "cookie cutter" is a bad word at work. For us, saying that something is a "cookie-cutter solution" is an insult. It goes against our underlying values; whereas, words like "tailored" and "high-touch" hold positive value. The notion of "customizing" something reflects the assumption that a person with a brain and expertise (i.e., a consultant) had a contribution to shaping the cookie. I mean, deliverable.
"Best regards, Sonia" might be a typical way to close an email. but if it's done in purple font, and in script, what might this say about the sender?
My workplace is corporate and very conservative. (You don't see men wearing crazy ties much less women in sassy earrings.)
Yet, every once in a while, I will get an email with a "fun" signature. I have to admit: I usually pause and pass judgment on the person.
I wonder if I am the only stick in the mud who thinks this sort of "flourish" is risky when it comes to keeping up a professional persona, i.e., your own "brand" at work? To me, it's the email equivalent of wearing dangly, light-up earrings on a day when you have a client meeting. In sum, it's not a good idea if you want to be taken seriously.
Deborah Tannen talks about how women can't simply dress for work, but instead, women always convey a certain "look," e.g., sophisticated, conservative, sexy, etc. In getting dressed, women have many choices to make, from shoes to accessories to hair style. There are several variables at play here, and each conveys a ton of meaning. She calls this "marked."
(For more on the notion of "marked"/"unmarked," read this article: The New York Times Magazine, June 20, 1993. "Wears Jump Suit. Sensible Shoes. Uses Husband's Last Name." Originally titled "Marked Women, Unmarked Men" by Deborah Tannen)
Back to the email signature. A purple signature is "marked" in much the same way. The default ("unmarked") is to keep your signature in black/white and an "unmarked" font, e.g., Arial, or whatever the body of the email is in. At best, it's a "fun" flourish, at worst, it could take away from your image as a professional.
(As an aside, I am learning about the field of information visualization. It encompasses graphic design, brain science, and communication. I wonder if there's some research in this field that could explain my prejudice against the purple, scripty signature?)
A yoga studio I follow posted this to their Facebook site:
[We have] classes for everyone. We don't care if your overweight, aren't flexible, or have no experience.
What’s your reaction? Is it inviting or insulting?
I zeroed in on the word “overweight.”
I felt its punch like a smack in the face. Linguists refer to this as a 'face threat.' It is a statement that pushes me, the reader, down, i.e., by insulting me or impinging upon me in some way.
The "voice" of the studio is that of a fit, lean, healthy person…speaking to a fat person. I'm not feeling the yoga solidarity here. Suddenly “difference” (their healthy weight vs. my extra few pounds) is called out in a bald way. On the record, they are putting me down!
The studio wants to set a tone of inclusion. They know that yoga studios can be intimidating for the un-initiated. And they are trying to counter-act their “image,” i.e., lots of lean, limber people who seem to know their way around a sticky mat.
Back to the Facebook post. Why doesn’t it work?
You usually see marketing ploys to build up the 'positive face' of the reader. That is, use flattery all over the place to cultivate customers or encourage repeat business. It sounds something like this:
“You have exquisite taste ... you are a hipster ... you deserve it … So buy what we’re selling.”
What might work better?
I have found that yoga and the language of yoga is gentle and inclusive. Yoga instructors talk discretely in terms of “body types” vs. “fat” and “inflexibility.” They also emphasize the individual, non-competitive experience of yoga. This tends to disarm new people and create a comfort level in the studio. They also help orient new people to the "culture" of yoga in a positive way. It's true that yogis “stay on their own mats.” No one is looking around (much of yoga is an eyes-closed activity) making comparisons around the room as to “who’s better.” So, play this up!
Want to play that game where I say something, and you have to tell me where we are?
It's easy, I promise. Here we go.
"...items may have shifted during flight."
Where could we be? Only one possible answer, right? On a plane!
Okay, now, who's talking? The flight attendant! Of course!
You can probably even tell me that he/she is making an announcement, to all passengers, over the loud speaker.
How is it that you can quickly situate this short fragment of a sentence in place and time?
Ah, the magic of "jargon." Whether you feel "jargon" has a negative connotation, or whether it's simply defined as "lingo" familiar to a group or organization, such as a business or profession, you need to only take one flight or see one TV sit com filmed on an airplane, and you recognize this familiar warning to passengers. You can likely also rattle off a few more. Give it a try! Why not!?
(What did you come up with? How about, "I will walk around to collect any 'service items.'" Who says that? 'Service items?' Really?)
So, why do we care about jargon? What "work" does it do?
If you are a flight attendant, you are part of the airline's culture, and perhaps certain expressions are tailor-made to suit the job. If you are a passenger, you may find it part of the experience of flying to hear this kind of "jargon." Just as you may expect a gondolier to sing to you when you travel to Venice. Of course, you also may find it irksome. For sure, jargon is the butt of many jokes - whether you are in the organization (and proficient in the jargon) or not.
My first semester in graduate school (in a linguistics program), I tackled a research problem that had fascinated me for years. I was interested in finding out what my coworkers attitudes were toward the "jargon" at work, and, more importantly, I wanted to know (as a young professional with some serious ambition!) whether mastering "jargon" (and using it A LOT) was somehow conflated with exuding executive presence.
I needed data...I surveyed over 100 coworkers about "our lingo." The high (over 80%) participation rate in the survey signaled just how exciting this topic was (and is) at work! In trying to gauge *attitudes* toward jargon, I asked participants to indicate whether the jargon they hear/see is used mostly by themselves or others. The answer, OTHERS. My sampling was a group of people from my own social network at work. Otherwise, it was a mixed group by level, team, and tenure. I wondered if somehow *I* attracted people who decidedly did not use jargon. Was I work friends with a bunch of purists?! How could it be? Or, did they not want to admit to it?!
We certainly are not going to resolve this in one blog post. But I do invite you, in the spirit of smooth communications and building awareness of your own communication style...to take note of your own expressions. Is there any work jargon that you use with customers? Or outside of work settings? If so, what's the impact on others? Misunderstandings? A little levity? Or do they "get it" and feel included and cozy for understanding it? Or do you, with one small phrase or expression, set yourself apart...and push them out?
Everyone expresses politeness in their own way. We do it everyday in conversation. Phrases like "please" and "thank you" can certainly lubricate the social experience, but there are endless ways to layer any conversation with politeness, and we can get quite creative depending on the type of conversation, who we are talking to, how we we know each other, power dynamics, etc.
Lately, I've been hearing a lot of, "actually," followed by, "you're wrong..."
A couple examples:
Sonia: Excuse me, is this the way to the library?
Helpful student: Actually, you need to take the next street.
Sonia: Can I return this at any time, if I save the receipt?
Salesperson: Actually, that's a final sale item.
I am now looking out for "actually" as a gentle word that *points* to the correction, or the phrase that sets the record straight. For a little word, it does a lot of work. It softens the blow (to come), e.g., the "you're wrong," and helps you prepare to "hear" what's next, e.g., the "correct" info that you have to hold onto. I wonder if it's the new "please" and "thank you?"
I love traveling for a lot of reasons, but in particular, leaving home and getting out of my daily routine teaches me so much about myself, and gives me time and space to reflect on what I take for granted as "normal."
After 15+ years in Washington, D.C., and regularly "swiping" my Metro card, I was surprised to "dip" it in Chicago. Not only do the official (posted) instructions advise train passengers to "dip" their cards, but a Station Manager reinforced the term when I asked him for help, as did this Chicago Tribune article.
To my delight, my opportunities to use the word "dip" have expanded! There's now more to "dip" than my toe in a swimming pool or a soft-serve ice cream cone into warm chocolate.
I wonder if there's a linguist doing field research in train stations across the U.S. -- preparing to design a "dip vs. swipe" map similar to this "pop vs. soda" map? (Or maybe "swipe" is a D.C. Metro thing?)
I've come to expect it as part of the script. Any mid-range or better restaurant in the U.S. coaches their servers to check in with customers after they take their first or second bite.
"How is everything for ya today?"
(Although I recently got, "Is everything tasting good for ya today?" To which, I wanted to reply, "Yes, my taste buds are functioning well for me today. Thank you for asking today.")
The thing is that I almost never tell the truth. Unless something is raw or rancid, I won't give real feedback. My canned answer (most of the time spoken with a full mouth and only fleeting eye contact) is, "Great, thanks."
I don't reveal, "This vinaigrette tastes bottled," or "You skimped on the shrimp," or whatever it is that I am actually thinking...and and whatever has already influenced my decision of whether or not I'll return for a future meal.
For restaurants, is the question simply a way to build the customer relationship? Small talk while facilitating drink refills? I wonder what kind of data comes from this inquiry? Is there a missed opportunity here? Could changing the question help create a dialogue with customers? Help customers share what they are thinking about "how things are tasting." Help customers share precious info with their servers -- before they get home and post candid comments to Yelp? (As I do!)
I did a double take in Bed Bath & Beyond the other day. Baby - what? Bullet? Really? What do babies have to do with bullets? (I hope nothing!)
[For those of you who haven't seen it: This product is a mini food-processor. It's marketed to parents interested in pureeing wholesome food for their babies. Some research informed me of a related (parent!) product called the 'Magic Bullet.']
I got to wondering about the product name. Two options: 'Baby bullets' could either be small bullets (as in, smaller than the Magic Bullet) or bullets for babies. (It feels wrong even to type this!)
As I stepped back, I realized my angst is simply in placing the two words (baby+bullet) side by side. Ick! 'Bullet' makes me think guns, war, shooting, death. Certainly not homemade organic applesauce. What were the marketing folks thinking?
Of course, there's a good chance that the name doesn't bother anyone but me. (I should check out the product sales stats.) And there's a chance the product performs so well that new parents don't care what it's called. And, anyway, the packaging is very friendly. That smiley face won't shoot me. It couldn't possibly!
_I had a call with a partner this week. (Some context: His assistant scheduled the call, because he needed to interview me to do due diligence for an award submission. Partners are the senior-most people in the company, and I am few levels below!)
He started the call by asking me, “Have we met?”
[If my life were a beautifully-scripted play, I’d have responded coyly, “Oh, you’d remember me if we’d met!” But, alas, the dialogue of my life is not so tight.]
Of course, I was polite and continued with the conversation. (No, we had not "met" before that phone call.) But as we talked, I was silently processing the comment, “Have we met?”
Here’s what I took it to mean:
· Have we met? --> Because I cannot possibly be expected to remember you
· Have we met? --> Because you’d remember me for sure, but I have more important data to archive in my memory
Of course, there’s a chance he had no arrogant intent. And there’s a chance he is clueless as to how this question came across…but I can’t think of a better POWER PLAY to start off a conversation! Aside from the fact that questions in and of themselves are power plays—i.e., the person who asks the question sets the agenda, and dictates the focus of your response—in those three words, he’s in charge! At best, I am positioned to brief him. At worst, I am little spec he can’t be bothered to remember.
Positioning in conversation. It’s a powerful weapon! And you’re always positioned vis-à-vis something or someone else. There’s no way to position yourself in isolation. So watch where you point that thing!
And if, after reading this, you fear you may be clueless as to how you come across, please ask someone for feedback.
Davies, B. and Harré, R. (1990). 'Positioning: The Discursive Production of Selves.' Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 20 (1), 43-63
Harré, Rom and Van Langenhove, Luk (eds) (1999). Positioning Theory: Moral Contexts of Intentional Action. Malden: Blackwell
Lately, I have been thinking about: What makes a leader *sound* like a leader?
We’ve all heard it: that solid, steady, decisive, and clear speech that draws you in…and makes you want to follow…So, what is it? A deep voice? Strong messages? Humility? Good storytelling skills? The ability to convey a vision – the kind of vision that inspires people to follow you, motivates people to work hard, and connects people to something bigger – a group or a cause?
All of the above?
How does this show up in how we communicate? Are all good communicators leaders? Do all good public speakers show up as leaders?
A couple years ago, I was teaching a diversity training in Tampa. I’d never been to that office before. In fact, I didn't know anyone there. After lunch, a man popped into the training room doorway and looked in. I knew immediately he wasn’t lost down the wrong hallway looking for a different meeting. And I knew he didn’t want anything from us. Simply by the way he carried himself I knew exactly what was up: This guy was a manager doing a 'hello' drive by to pop into the training classroom and see what his staff were up to.
In this case, what signals was I reading? He wasn't wearing the nicest tailored suit. In fact, I recall that he wasn't in a jacket, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up. It wasn't the outfit. What was it? The confidence, the poise, the sense of, "I'm at home here?”
The real question I’ve been pondering is: How can my training as a linguist help people in leadership roles develop their own unique persona...and inspire followership? We use our words and our voices everyday to get work done and to build and maintain relationships. Some people do so more effectively than others. How can I use my training to illustrate how that is?
As my workplace moves to a dispersed model, that is, where it's likely you won't be co-located with your manager or teammates, I have been thinking a lot about why this change will take adjustment. There's a lot of angst about this change, and what I hear is that my colleagues are very concerned they won't be able to maintain and build relationships at work -- if we don't sit together and see each other regularly. There's fear that we will become disconnected.
As someone who spends a lot of my work day in front of the computer and on the phone (vs. in in-person meetings), I have been thinking about "what's the difference?" I have a conclusion: it's about the quantity of signals we're used to getting from one another...and about how we'll be receiving them.
In mostly in-person meetings and interactions in the hallways, elevators, and kitchens, we're accustomed to taking in signals from all of our senses. We get to hear if someone has a cold (can't tell this in email), we get to smell their perfume (doesn't it say a lot about a person?), we see the expressions on their face and all the non verbals. We also see what they are wearing, and that data helps us make assessments that they are "artsy," or "conservative," or maybe connected to someone who buys them lots of quirky ties?
In any case, this is data. This is the kind of data on which we build conversations...or at least "small talk." This same data doesn't come through email. It doesn't come through instant messenger, and it might not transmit a conference call.
In a surround-sound and blue ray world, we are worried that our human interactions are going from high def to...could it be...analog?
I can see why this is causing stress. But, the answers lie in the virtual world...We used to receive signals that provided insights into a colleague's personality or interests simply by sharing the same physical space. We can still access this information, but it requires research. We'll need to spend more time leveraging technology, such as IM and webcams. We'll also need to mine the internet. See who is on Yammer, who is blogging, what your colleagues say on LinkedIN. What they post on Facebook. It's all out there...we just need to adjust how we receive the signals.
Conversion Strategies For Moving To A Dispersed Work Environment
Past: Pictures on your desk to show your team that you love to ski, have a dog and two kids, and went to VA Tech
Future: Facebook posts and photos for work and personal friends
Past: Snazzy ties and crisply-ironed shirts with monogrammed cuff links; we know you are a snazzy dresser
Future: Don't worry. The webcam will pick up your sense of style
Past: The cup of tea you'd prepare in the kitchen at 4 PM got you over the afternoon slump and allowed for some quick networking with colleagues
Future: You can still have tea and coffee breaks with colleagues. Find them on IM and ask if they have a minute for a quick call. They will likely welcome the break