Watch Your Language

[ K=Kindness | Index | M=Mistakes ]

Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism

Professional language is a skill and a discipline that reflects feelings and personal character. Language includes both spoken and written words. When spoken, it includes words and sounds as well as voice inflections, facial expressions and body language. Language is a highly visual medium. That’s why it makes sense to say, “Watch your language.” and “Read my lips.”

“Get in touch with the way the other person feels. Feelings are 55% body language, 38% tone and 7% words.” — Source: thinkexist.com

“The body says what words cannot.” — Martha Graham (1894-1991)

“The language of the body is the key that can unlock the soul.” — Konstantin Stanislavsky

Language is usually equated with speech. But, it is also at the heart of the human thought process. People think and act within the framework of their language(s).

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922)

“If one corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” — George Orwell

“Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

— Unknown

Language is a powerful force used for good or evil. This makes language a tool of one’s intentions, which in turn is submissive to one’s character.

“Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides.” — Rita Mae Brown, Starting From Scratch, 1988 (also attributed to Alcaeus)

“The assassin and the slanderer differ only in the weapon they use; with the one it is the dagger, with the other the tongue. The latter is worse than the former, for the first only kills the body, while the other murders the reputation.” — Tyron Edwards

When one’s words are inconsistent with his intentions he needs to improve his language skills. When his words are inconsistent with his actions, he needs to improve his attitude.

“‘Careful with fire’ is good advice we know. ‘Careful with words’ is ten times doubly so.” — William Carleton

“Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing” — Edmund Burke

“Go put your creed into your deed.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Use soft words and hard arguments.” — English Proverb

Words can empower others, sometimes with a subtle change in phraseology.

“Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings differently arranged have a different effect.” — Blaise Pascal

For example, compare the following two phrases and ask which one treats the person as an object:

“I’m assigning you to this task.” OR “I’m assigning this task to you.”

A professional communicates effectively not just by the words he chooses, but also when he uses them. Silence is an element of language and knowing when to remain silent is a key aspect of professional language. Precision means the right words or no words at the right time.

“Accuracy of language is one of the bulwarks of truth.” — Anna Brownell Jameson

“Grammar and logic free language from being at the mercy of the tone of voice. Grammar protects us against misunderstanding the sound of an uttered name; logic protects us against what we say having double meaning.” — Rosenstock-Huessy

“No one has a finer command of language than the person who keeps his mouth shut.” — Sam Rayburn (1882-1961)

Language is either the polish or the tarnish on one’s reputation.

“Language most shews a man: Speak, that I may see thee.” — Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

“We can learn much from wise words, little from wisecracks, and less from wise guys.” — William Arthur Ward

Some of the most polished professionals I know are capable of uttering a profanity or vulgarity when they are overcome by anger or other intense emotion. This is a forgivable offense and not necessarily a permanent blemish on their professionalism. However, professionalism is compromised when offensive words are standard fare in a person’s vocabulary. It indicates a lack of respect and self control as well as a limited vocabulary.

It’s probably fair to say that people are not always aware of their own improper language. An example that comes to mind is the phrase, “Oh my God!” If someone says God’s name and is not speaking to or about God, he is using the Lord’s name as a slang word. Regardless of one’s religious faith, professionalism means respect toward the sacred words and symbols of others.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” — Bible, Exodus 20:7

So what does all of this stuff about language mean in practice? A comprehensive list would be too long to include here. Still, I thought it useful to provide a few places to start.

  • Voice Quality — Become adept at using the full range of your vocal capacity: inflections, volume, pitch, projection, diction, pace, resonance and continuity of sound.
  • Silence — Become a good listener. Besides giving others a chance to speak, you will learn more by listening.
  • Power — Communicate with conviction and resolve. It’s easier to use the right language when you have the right attitude.
  • Introductions — Use Dr., Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., military rank or other title when introducing people and addressing them in a professional setting.
  • Boasting — Offering unsolicited advice, being a know-it-all and bragging subtract from professionalism.
  • Gossip — Spreading rumors and negative information about others is really an attempt to elevate your reputation by means of lowering others.
  • Posture — Whether standing or sitting, the way you lean, the direction you face, and the position of your head, legs, feet, arms, and hands can embellish or denude your words.
  • Face — Emotions and attitudes are projected most powerfully through facial expressions. Your facial expressions and head movements either support or contradict your words.

“I’m so excited for you.”

  • Mannerisms -– Avoid distracting movements, such as: jingling keys/coins, yawning, fixing or playing with hair, biting nails, picking nose, scratching, rubbing, and picking scabs.
  • Eyes — The windows to your soul often speak more loudly than your words. Eye contact, when, how often and how long can impact your underlying message.

“Eye contact is the best accessory.” — Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata

“The eyes have one language everywhere.” — George Herbert

Together, all parts of language reflect and define who we are. A dedicated effort to improve one’s language will pay huge dividends.

“As was his language so was his life.” — Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD)

“The game of life is the game of boomerangs. Our thoughts, deeds and words return to us sooner or later, with astounding accuracy.” — Florence Shinn

“Kind words, kind looks, kind acts and warm handshakes, these are means of grace when men in trouble are fighting their unseen battles” — John Hall

In the end, what matters most about our language is that it is heartfelt, kind, respectful, and in all other ways consistent with the definition of a professional.

“Let the words of my mouth bring You praise.
Let the words that I speak be seasoned with Your love and grace.
Let the things, O Lord, that I choose to say,
Bring glory, not shame, to Your name each day.
Let the words of my mouth bring You praise.”
— “Let the Words” by Gail Hamilton, performed by Take 6

God bless,

— CC

[ K=Kindness | Index | M=Mistakes ]

© Copyright October 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com

Constructive Conversation

[ B=Behavior | Index | D=Dress ]

Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism

“The character of a man is known from his conversations.” — Menander (342 BC – 292 BC)

Professional conversation is first and foremost about being a good listener. Becoming so is nothing more than learning to care more about what the other person is saying than what you want to say.

“There are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves.” — Albert Guinon (1863-1923)

So, listen like you care — it shows respect. It has the added advantages of keeping you more alert and helping you to remember more.

“All people want is someone to listen.” — Hugh Elliott, Standing Room Only weblog, May 8, 2003

“The first duty of love is to listen.” — Paul Tillich (1886-1965), O Magazine, February 2004

“Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.” — Saint Benedict

For those times when you have trouble caring, listen like you’ll be tested. Unless it’s a business conversation this doesn’t mean taking notes. Just try to remember the key points. This technique will reinforce your attitude toward listening.

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something.” — Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)

When someone rambles on with no apparent end in sight, resist the temptation to “return the favor.” Instead, politely listen as if there’s a hidden gem in what he is saying that you can’t afford to miss.

“Opportunities are often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be listening.” — Author Unknown

When you hear something interesting or useful, you have the opportunity to take control of the conversation with your response. Return both comments and questions to keep him focused on that one point of interest. To avoid turning the conversation into an interview, respond by paraphrasing what the other person said. This demonstrates that you were listening and creates an opportunity to correct any misconceptions. Practice these techniques to become adept at turning a monologue into a dialog.

“To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation.” — Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

“Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.” — Dr. Joyce Brothers

When listening (and speaking), look at the person’s face, not out the window, at your cell phone or at the television.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” — M. Scott Peck

“Few are agreeable in conversation, because each thinks more of what he intends to say than of what others are saying, and listens no more when he himself has a chance to speak.” — Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

In addition to the previous points, professional conversation requires polite language. Name-calling, gossiping, accusations, vulgarities and profanity interfere with the message and tarnish the speaker’s professional image.

“The art of conversation consist as much in listening politely, as in talking agreeably.” — Atwell

“As I get older, I’ve learned to listen to people rather than accuse them of things.” — Po Bronson, quoted in Publishers Weekly

“A filthy mouth will not utter decent language.” — Chinese Proverb

Even innocent errors in phraseology can alter the direction of a conversation. Imagine how the following statements, which differ by only one word, could change the tone.

“What you just said struck a chord.” vs. “What you just said struck a nerve.”

Conversations occur across different channels in different configurations: one-on-one, group, business meetings, teacher/students, self talk, conversations with God (i.e. prayer), in person, over the phone or video phone, and via Internet or cell chat. Each has special nuances, but all are most effective when exercising respect.

As these principles and techniques are mastered, you may not always remember a lot about every conversation. But, you will at least be able to say something like, “I remember that interesting talk we had last week. What you said about ‘x’ really got me thinking.”

“People may not remember what you did or said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” — Attributed to Maya Angelou

Last of all, here’s some good advice for public speaking and for conversations.

“Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.” — Dorothy Sarnoff

“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” — Dorothy Nevill

God bless,

— CC

[ B=Behavior | Index | D=Dress ]

© Copyright August 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com