Words are the foundation of ourselves as human beings…. with words we first begin as children to communicate, using our words to build bonds, forging links with our families, friends and our world. Through that early process we become individuals – distinguishable from our parents, siblings and peers – Our personalities are formed in the way we use words, which words we use and how we engage with others in using those words. As we grow older, we master the use of words in all its forms; written as well as verbal – We become wordsmiths, creating and building more complex pictures of ourselves and our understanding of the world around us. It is during this period of growth and development that we learn the importance of not just our own words but those of others. We become increasingly aware of the importance of not just what we say, and how we say it, but what is heard….it is then that our words have power.
The power to be supportive and the power to destruct
The power to encourage and the power to obstruct
The power to lift and the power to belittle
The power to express love and the power to spread hate
The power to heal….and the power to kill
The truth is that words do not have power in themselves, they have the power we instil in them by the way we use them, when we use them and who we include when we direct them. More importantly, words are given more power when we forget the ‘listener’ to our words…’speaking without listening’ is often a fundamental flaw in our communication: Failing to see beyond our own need to ‘have our say’ or even worse, adding our words to that of others without reflecting on not only what is said, but what may be heard and who could be listening.
In my professional and personal life I am acutely aware of the difference in the ways we use words in individual and group ‘speak’ -For me, whether speech is individual or group is determined by more than just the number of speakers involved.
Individual speak on the whole is rational and reflective, thinking about what is meant and using words to help make thoughts and feelings (whether positive or negative) understood. ‘Individuals’ speaking are able to easily tap into their early learning about communication ‘take your time, think about what you want to say or what you wish someone to know, then find the words’. This type of speech has a purpose, usually a positive purpose at its heart – even when we don’t agree with what we hear – if we listen carefully we will hear there is a message of growth behind the words used. Words which encourage and applaud at one extreme or identify our opportunities for growth within what may first appear to be critical comment.
Group speak is different, particularly in the professional sphere. Group speak instills no feelings of responsibility, group speak is more often used to distance the ‘speakers’ from the message in the conversation. The purpose here is not to leave room for growth or enable it to flourish, but to restrict and restrain growth. The act to restrain growth is couched in words that demean and belittle, negate effort or minimise experience and confer restrictive labels which are absolute – Group speak has more power to isolate the speaker from the subject, or worse still, the people under ‘discussion’ and render them less like ourselves, less important, less human….just less.
Our challenge as mature human beings is to recognise and harness the power of our words and use them with purpose. Our duty as professionals is to optimise our individual speak, encourage growth and thus sustaining the ability of others to develop. In doing so we are more likely to resist the temptation to use group speak ourselves…..or tolerate it in others.