How we talk

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Alex Kjerulf tweeted a link to Ted Dziuba’s post: Stop Using the Word ‘We’. Ted’s been carrying out an experiment:

Yesterday, I spearheaded a new movement at the office. I stopped using the word “we”, and started to say what I really meant to say. For example, instead of “We should fix that bug”, I say, “You should fix that bug”, and good God is it satisfying.

It’s an excellent rant about how people in organisations end up using euphemistic language that in the end disempowers them.

Not that always being direct and blunt is going to be a perfect solution either. But I am very interested in how we use language. Sometimes we use it to raise our status, but in doing so cut ourselves off from reality – and thus lose our power.

The other day on the bus, a passenger was carrying on a loud conversation with a client. She was discussing the morals of some candidates she’d been interviewing, which I thought was a little rich coming from someone with a fairly diminished sense of confidentiality. Perhaps this biassed me against her. Later in the call she was discussing some other HR issue and promised her client that she would talk to various employees. “Don’t worry, I’ll manage their expectations,” she said. I realise that’s a very common phrase in business but that morning it stuck out like a sore thumb, and made me wonder: what kind of world do we end up in when we frame our experience in such a way? Do we really believe that we understand other people’s inner worlds so well that we can seriously “manage” their expectations with any certainty?

I might be over-reacting. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how people often talk as if they are in control of more things than anyone, in all truth, really could be. And then not talking about stuff where they do have some authority. So it’s easy to make abstract criticisms of systems: “I think this process should be changed”. And hard to say stuff that has less status but has more emotional truth, like “I’m bored and frustrated”.

Thus there are a lot of conversations about how to change the world but maybe not so many about the humbler challenge of truly experiencing our own little piece of it. Which I think relates in some way to what Euan is saying here.

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