The Value of Saying What You Mean
By Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso
As people we have a lot of conversations in our day-to-day life. But how often do we really think about what we’re saying or how we’re saying it? It can be surprisingly easy to forget that communication is a skill and even easier to forget how much power and weight our words really have.
Understanding the Impact of Words
We have hundreds of conversations daily and it’s easy to not completely think about all of of them in the process. But our conversations are made up of words and words have impact, power, and weight. While obviously our tone,choice of words, and use of words are huge factors shaping the conversation and its outcome, are they what makes words powerful ingredients? The answer is surprisingly no.The thing that makes words what they are is their meaning. And let’s make no mistakes here. I don’t mean what we think they mean or what they mean to us personally but what they actually mean in dictionary definition.
Before words become a conversation element they really are just clusters of letters that have been recorded into a language and assigned meanings. Unfortunately, we live in a very strange world recently where younger generations have been a huge shaping factor in how we look at words. That is to say that in what they perceive as an act of originality newer generations have created and pushed for the adoption of a different attitude towards the art of language. Things like the actual dictionary meaning of a word,the pronunciation of a word, and even the usage of punctuation and grammar have been victims to a generation that believes them to be old-fashioned and obsolete. What ends up getting lost in the shuffle is the order that defined and built the English language. As a language it no longer really holds the same universality or clarity it used to.
This is an important thing to take note of because while we don’t think about it or even actively acknowledge it, abandoning long held standards in communication changes how we interpret vocal and written communication. English is actually one of the most difficult languages to learn and it’s mainly because native English speakers are constantly making arbitrary and usually pop culture based additions to it or improperly speaking it in day-to-day usage. This makes it near impossible to learn it on the fly or through observation and constantly breaks any perceived standards usually present in a language. The English language has more variations and slang to it than any other known language system.
But at the root of how we communicate is words and their meanings. There’s a rather accurate meme that used to go around with the guy from The Princess Bride captioned in some variation of “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” and it’s kind of sad how on the nose that observation is. Despite having a book specifically made for word meanings, I’ve spoken to numerous adults that simply have no idea what a lot of words they use mean. I’ve also spoken to a number of younger generation people who have the same issue.
But why is it an issue at all? Is it our education system? Are people trying to modernize the English language? Maybe they’re just lazy. If you ask me, it’s a little bit of all of that. On top of the issue of newer generations wanting to rebel and redefine communication standards we have a gradually devolving education system that as opposed to challenging students and raising the bar, has lowered it level by level to the degree kids are becoming lazy and disinterested teenagers who grow into under-educated adults with limited communication skills. But at the cornerstone is laziness.
We have so many conversations in so many forms and such a low sense of personal responsibility in modern society. As a result we tend to cut corners with communication whether it be by not taking the time to properly craft a sentence in something written or being vague or improper in what we say because we can’t be bothered to mentally form a proper statement and take time to think about what comes out of our mouths. We continually take for granted what it means to properly communicate with other people.
When we discount the meaning of words and the structure of the English language we fail to communicate in an effective and clear manner. This makes it much easier to be misunderstood and even easier to be offensive or just plain wrong in what we say. While your first instinct when someone points out a language error is probably to get defensive,perhaps the more accurate reaction would be to give it some thought. You may not actually be saying what you think you are on further review. But above all the cardinal errors we make in communication, make an effort to understand the meaning of the words you use. Knowing what words mean before we use them is the basis of good communication because once you understand the true meaning of a word, you can as a result use it properly and understand the context and of course the impact.
The Differences Between Substance and Honesty
While the meaning and usage of words builds the foundation for our communication, there is a lot of accountability held by the content as a whole as well. We have limited time and a lot of conversations in the span of a day but have you ever taken the time to consider how much of it is filler? We consistently lower the value of our communications by weighing it down with filler conversation. While we may feel somewhat socially obligated to make small talk in an elevator or reply to every single text, is it truly adding to anything to the human experience?
One of the things I focus on as a writer is character dialogue. Extraneous character dialogue is one of the major factors that can ruin a good story. In the same sense when we don’t make efforts to think before we speak and trim the fat we weigh our daily conversations down and impact them negatively. All the people we’re interacting with are on the same borrowed time we are so coming to the table with a worthwhile interaction makes a big difference and reduces the odds of us saying things that leave negative impressions.
Impulsive speaking not only creates a bad impression but can also be dangerous,hurtful,or something we regret later on. Understanding that our conversations need to contain information that is accurate,organized,and worth the time of the other person will add instant value to your conversation.
But beyond substance we need to be responsibly honest. Lying in general is not a good practice and honesty is preferred but with that we need to be mindful of how honest we’re being and if it’s necessary. We’ve all heard the term TMI or at the very least seen the expression that goes with it. It means we’re being too honest and it’s not appropriate with that person or situation. When you’re considering honesty don’t think about it as doing it or not doing it but rather how much. Being honest is always a good policy but depending on factors like your relationship with the person or the social situation you may not have to be honest to a huge degree. For instance, your level of honesty with say your therapist or your mother should be different from your level of disclosure with a colleague or acquaintance.
Be real but be mindful as a good rule of thumb on how open is the right level for the circumstances. This will help you avoid TMI or being offensive. Keeping in mind that a conversation by the coffee machine doesn’t need to lead to you talking about your childhood or just remembering that most people will ask if there’s really more to the conversation can help you balance out your social interactions accordingly and have much less stress tied to them.
Learning to Add Value to Our Interactions
People who have a need to focus on communication for a living like orators and writers have to develop some appreciation for audience. That same sense of knowing your audience can also be a great trait to have when we want to create more quality interactions in our everyday lives. Having great content is only half of the equation if we don’t understand the people we’re trying to communicate with or have focus.
Understanding the interests of your audience or the person you’re talking to allows you to not only trim the fat of what you want to say accordingly but lets you know what content will actually be meaningful to that person. If the other person isn’t interested in the conversation than you move from talking to them to talking at them and that’s not a true conversation.
Making a practice of trying to gauge a person’s interest in a subject over our own interest in that subject can go a long way. It may seem fine or you may be bursting to talk about it but at the end of the day when we talk at people it makes us look rude and leaves a negative impact on the other person. It also doesn’t hurt to try to engage the people we interact with by trying to figure out their interests and goals for that interaction. Think about factors like the environment,circumstances, and the level of emotional investment. Make sure you understand the actual purpose of the interaction and don’t just inject your own. Simply focusing on the other person’s perspective can be a huge impact and lead to deeper and more meaningful interactions in a natural manner. It also forces us to stop and truly invest ourselves into the interaction as opposed to being stuck in our own mind and on our own goals. In general, we can all afford to take a vacation from ourselves so next time you interact with a person try truly engaging them and creating more meaningful interactions worth your time and theirs.
The Value of Becoming a Good Listener
Just as we can talk at and not to a person we can hear and not listen. Active listening is key when it comes to truly having a conversation. It means we are not just hearing the noises accompanying the other person’s mouth moving but processing what they’re saying and forming an appropriate response based on that. Learning to be a good listener is not just respectful but over time will help us grow as people and truly tune in to the world around us.It allows us to truly comprehend the information being given to us and can even help us form more educated points of view on issues.Hearing is for noises but if we’re talking to another human being we need to listen.
The Red Flags of Social Interactions
There are a number of social interaction mistakes every one of us falls prey to here and there. On the same note there are things you should just avoid or not do at all no matter what the circumstance.
Taking these small steps can be a big improvement to your everyday interactions:
- Don’t interrupt! If another person is speaking you should be listening. Even if a person is way off track or you aren’t interested in what they have to say, interrupting is immature and rude. Listen first and respond second as a rule of thumb so you can leave the interaction looking mature and respectful one way or the other.
- Don’t change the subject. It’s rude and dismissive. If you really aren’t interested it will look a little better to still listen to the person and find a more respectful way to dismiss yourself from the conversation.
- Don’t get distracted. Focus on the interaction and show the other person you are focused through things like eye contact,turning your body in their direction, and keeping a good tone of voice. We all deserve the respect and focus of people we engage so behave like you would want another person to during the interaction.
- Don’t be close-minded. We are all capable of babbling about things that interest us and may not interest others so be polite and listen. Dismiss yourself in a respectful manner and try to appreciate someone else’s passion about something. When we learn to accept a person’s ideas and views we make a step to accepting them as a person.
- Don’t be Vulgar. Not everyone is okay with raw language and profanity so unless you know them well enough,trim back your risky language. It’s rude to assume a person’s comfort level.
- Don’t be Prejudice. People will be able to tell when you treat them differently based on a trait. Don’t make adjustments to your interactions based on a person’s color,gender,sexual orientation , or anything else. Those aren’t things that define a person and stereotyping is offensive.
- Don’t lose control. When we go off the handle we lose focus and that can damage an interaction in a lot of ways. If you feel urges to have an outburst whether it’s good or bad take a mental moment to rein yourself in so you can maintain the quality of the interaction.
- Don’t say it out loud without saying it in your head first. If it makes you iffy it will probably bother the other person to hear it too. It will also give you a moment to revise it or form a better response.
Life is busy but it doesn’t have to be so busy that we’re not getting the most out of our everyday interactions. Start talking to people instead of at them. Listen instead of just hearing. Most of all be real and start truly engaging others instead of settling for mediocre and easy interactions. Communication is a powerful tool that anyone can use to make the most of every day so let’s stop cutting corners and start truly engaging others and having real conversations.