Chapter 17

The opposite of fluff is meaningful conversation

Language is the air our thinking needs to breathe. We grow into our mother tongue as children. People who further develop their language abilities as adults expand their possi­bi­lities for shaping their lives. Using language skillfully can help you create synergies during discus­sions that can only be achieved by a group when the parti­ci­pants work together.

How you speak reflects who you are

People we talk to can recognize quite a lot about us not only by what we say, but also by the way we say it. The great poet of ancient Greece, Homer, is said to have said to people who approached him: “Speak so that I can see you!” Homer was blind.

As children, we learn language the way our parents, especially our mothers, convey it to us. Our mothers do this from within the environment they live in. If our environment speaks a dialect, we will initially pick up that dialect of our environment. For some, this has such a strong effect that you always hear where they come from.

We then learn how to write in school. This disci­plines our voice for the first time. You can’t write the way you talk. Writing forces us to reflect our thoughts precisely. If we do not learn how to do that, our unfet­tered writing style shows that our mastery of our mother tongue is imperfect and we are not able to fully take advantage of it to commu­nicate clearly with it.

Reading and writing are the skills that allow us to parti­cipate in the world around us beyond where we came from. In return, reading, writing, and talking provide us with oppor­tu­nities to record the insights and experi­ences of humanity and use them for us and for others.

We talk sponta­neously with the people in our immediate environment, meaning our partners, family members, neighbors, friends, colle­agues – without mincing words. But we manipulate things. Even as children, we got used to not telling every­thing. And that really isn’t really lying. Are there things that our parents should rather not know? How can I make myself look better? The occasional white lie can be very helpful. Our character is reflected in how we talk.

Despite major or minor manipu­lation of our speech, we are not entirely aware of what we say and, more importantly, what comes across to the people we are talking to. Talking situa­tions are fleeting and sponta­neous. You want to have an impact, share some thoughts, complain about something, share your opinion, and draw attention to yourself. The impulses for our talking come more from our feelings than from our mind.

The eight advan­tages of good language use

  1. Under­standing each other better

Many couples split up by citing the fact that they no longer understood each other. This “not under­standing” in many cases is based on lingu­istic diffi­culties. Couples thera­pists often note: Clients talked too little and what they said was understood differ­ently. Fewer misun­derstan­dings – this is one of the advan­tages that we have when we can express ourselves clearly.

  1. Having more time

The inability to express yourself clearly tempts you to express yourself awkwardly and ambiguously. You start at square one and never really get to the point. But this does not make you understood any better. Instead, you bore everyone and waste everyone’s time. The ability to express yourself precisely has the advantage of saving time by focusing on what matters most.

  1. Fewer conflicts

Most conflicts simmer. They are not addressed but the people concerned can sense that they are there. As a rule, they are the result of precon­ceived notions and assump­tions that have not been addressed openly. And this was either neglected or deliberately ignored. Rumors were permitted. The persons involved do not engage in discus­sions early on that are honest and resolve issues. Everyone did their own thing in secret. Fewer conflicts – groups whose members talk openly and honestly, early on, and without any ambiguity enjoy this advantage.

  1. Feeling better

Both in private and personal life, our happiness and well-being signi­fi­cantly depend on whether we feel understood and accepted. Everyone who says the right thing at the right time contri­butes to this. “Correct” means being able to use language appro­priately for the situation and the matter at hand. Not overre­acting and giving the silent treatment when something needs to be said. Higher satis­faction with life ensues in groups in which nothing is swept under the carpet, since everyone is able to articulate themselves and nothing is blown out of proportion.

  1. Increased perfor­mance

Groups that have developed high perfor­mance through meaningful conver­sation offer the advantage of strong and mutually empowering togetherness beyond “puppies and kittens”. This avoids stress that arises due to poor commu­ni­cation. Team spirit, which always spurs on everyone’s top perfor­mance, is an advantage that only comes about through profes­sional communication.

  1. Targeted creativity

While the stability and relia­bility of rehearsed approaches are important, they must not become stereo­ty­pical behavior. Instead, possi­bi­lities for impro­vement must constantly be identified and imple­mented. Thinking in new ways must be a given in your thinking. Alter­na­tives and variants can be quickly imple­mented as new ideas when they are developed in a team. This presup­poses that the individual members can talk to each other in a targeted manner. The advantage of profes­sional commu­ni­cation is not only producing ideas but also imple­menting them quickly and smoothly.

  1. Short reaction times

Decisions must often be made under time pressure and then executed immediately after­wards. If we do not wish this to happen with the risks of autho­ri­tarian leadership involved, but instead with the convinced commitment of the people concerned and involved, then everyone must be connected with the behavior of competent speech that has become a given. The following principle applies: Problems are solved where they are created. The advantage: Short reaction times.

  1. Create synergy

Four eyes see more than two. Two heads are better than one. We are strong together. There are many sayings that point to the advantage of the group. Groups have ensured the survival of humans from the beginning and for millennia. What one member of the group brought to the table in terms of skills was comple­mented by those of the others. The tasks and roles were distri­buted accordingly.

Today, when endea­voring to form a successful team, the same is true. The effect of a group performing in such a manner that exceeds the sum of the parts of each member’s abilities is called synergy. And this results in a new perfor­mance dimension. Profes­sional and competent commu­ni­cation gives a group an incal­culable synergy.

Five stages that result in a higher level of language

To reap the benefits of speaking with purpose, you must first get over yourself: namely, you no longer believe that the way you speak is an immutable part of a person like the head and limbs, but come to the conclusion that there is no better starting point for self-develo­pment than focusing inten­sively on your mother tongue and how you speak.

You reach a language level that will make
you happy via the following five levels: 

Level 1: Observe yourself when you talk.
Level 2: Observe how the people you talk to react to when you speak.
Level 3: Observe how others talk and write down what you like about it.
Level 4: Stay in constant dialogue with yourself.
Level 5: Prepare exten­sively for all important conversations.

For Level 1: Listen to yourself when you talk

To develop this skill, you need to sit down over the course of the day, at the latest in the evening, and write down who you talked to during the day. In a second step, you need to write down for every person you talked to what you talked to them about. In a third step, you need to write down why you talked to each other. For no parti­cular reason, just because? Or was there a parti­cular reason? And in a fourth step, you need to describe the feelings you had during and after the conver­sation: was it exciting or scary or relaxed or aggressive or cheerful or reserved?

You need to carry out this process consis­t­ently and until you notice the following during conver­sa­tions: I automa­ti­cally pay attention to every­thing we talk about, why we talk, how we commu­nicate with each other, and how I felt when we talked.

This obser­vation then must be refined further. You should carry out the following exercise once a month for this purpose: Record one of the many panel discus­sions on TV on a storage device. Play the recording step for step and write down who (1) parti­ci­pated in the panel and in which role/function (2), which topic or which topics (3) was being discussed and (4) what the individual parti­ci­pants said about which topic.

Then: Who talked the most? Who contri­buted the most to the topic? Whose thoughts could you follow the best? Who gave you the most insight? Listen to the conver­sation until you have completed all of these observations!

Once you have practiced analyzing TV discussion panels, you should record a conver­sation or discussion panel you parti­cipate in yourself. Openly tell the people you are talking to that you will listen to what you contri­buted again later on. People who are in a club, on a task force, or in a project group can offer to take the minutes – and therefore justify why you are writing things down.

Analyze this recording just like you analyzed the TV recording. You should scrutinize yourself, in parti­cular: Did I talk about the topic? Did I speak clearly? Was I long-winded or confusing? Did the others respond to my state­ments? How could I improve my contri­bu­tions to a discussion panel in the future?

For Level 2: How do the people I talk to react what I say?

To better estimate the reactions of people we talk to, you need to first clarify who is talking from which stand­point. When I am speaking as the boss and the others are more or less silent, my management style might be experi­enced as being autho­ri­tarian and people will likely be reserved. If a parti­cipant constantly makes a point of displaying their affir­mation, this will likely have little to do with the thing you are actually discussing. Autho­ri­tarian indivi­duals have diffi­culty allowing the benefits of group work take effect. For this reason, they must bring the way they commu­nicate to a higher level.

The effect that we have on others by how we talk can only be experi­enced somewhat suffi­ci­ently when we parti­cipate in different discussion groups and compare them. In the beginning, it is always a matter of being clear about the roles to which the people involved have been assigned. Where does everyone fall in line? How confident are the individual parti­ci­pants? Who is influenced by whom? To answer these questions, you also need to observe the gestures and facial expres­sions. Who has a poker face? For whom can you tell that they did not under­stand every­thing? Who nods their head in approval and when?

Note whether they listen to you while you are talking. If not, wait and look at the inattentive parti­cipant until they face you. Only continue then. Also write down who interacts when you speak when and how. Unfort­u­nately, only very few companies offer their employees feedback on how they talk and act.

For Level 3: Find role models!

Emulate people in your environment as your role models who are excellent at formu­lating their words, who don’t say much, but when they do say something they hit the nail on the head, and who defend their stand­point openly and honestly with confi­dence. Do not revere them but develop yourself accor­dingly. Observe carefully what you like about these persons that you would like to achieve as well.

You need to do your thing in a targeted and consistent manner on your own. What you see in your role models is always a “perfor­mance” and not what actually is behind these “speeches” in terms of ongoing practice and life philo­sophy. If you can’t find anyone in your surroun­dings to emulate, watch the afore­men­tioned panel discus­sions on TV and find a person there who seems to be a role model to you. And make yourself aware of the fact that nobody is born with a silver spoon in their mouth. We all develop speaking skills over the course of our lives.

But as it goes for artists or athletes whose achie­ve­ments we admire, we have to remember that there is a lot of training and practice involved. To people who see the life advan­tages of using language confi­dently right in front of them and experience every day how even minor progress in language use can have benefits and create moments of happiness, the necessary exercises for improving themselves are just as stimu­lating as solving crossword puzzles.

For Level 4: Staying in dialogue with yourself means writing.

Only talk when you have something to say. Otherwise, silence is golden. Most people are only able to say competent things in their area of expertise. Humans only develop a perso­nality when they add life experience and know how to express themselves with language. This is a lifelong process that you have to ease into. Once you have achieved that, you will experience a certain level of happiness in which your efforts don’t seem to be quite as troublesome.

The key tool for self-develo­pment is keeping a diary. There are preli­minary stages for this. Reflect on your day every evening. Plan the next day. Keep a diary of your daily events and insights. It doesn’t matter whether you use a book with empty pages or your laptop. You just have to use a system you selected and designed. Chapter 9 of this SINNphOLL book discusses in detail how to get onto the path of a self-deter­mined life that is reflected in how you talk (“Dialogue with yourself: Keeping a diary”).

And for Level 5: Prepare important discus­sions intensively.

You should prepare for a discussion just like musicians prepare meticu­lously for a concert or a tennis player prepares for a match.  The synergy effects of a group are created and become more prono­unced the more each individual parti­cipant adds in terms of their knowledge, experience, and useful traits. This is not possible off the cuff, but only if each parti­cipant warms up beforehand, prepares their potential and resources, and goes through the individual discussion points beforehand – in short, prepares thoroughly.

Aside from the individual prepa­ration for a meeting, there has to be organiza­tional planning which the inviting member of the group is respon­sible for. The invitation should indicate the place, time, duration, and especially the parti­ci­pants and the topic(s). For the parti­ci­pants, it should be noted in which capacity they will be parti­ci­pating. In the event of multiple topics, you should write down how much time is planned for every topic. In addition, the objective of the discussion group work should be stated for each topic, for example, whether the outcome should entail a decision or the concept for solving a problem.

Parti­ci­pants who have this infor­mation are able to make in-depth prepa­ra­tions. The general objective is to make meetings as effective as possible. And finally: Be open to having some fun. The atmosphere has to be relaxed even if your heads are steaming. Compulsive concen­tration blocks the release of synergies.

Goof around with your friends!

Using language in verbal commu­ni­cation is ultim­ately the art of choosing the appro­priate words for the respective situation. This is a skill that only improves when you develop a feel for different conver­sa­tional situa­tions. These situa­tions also include intimate conver­sa­tions among friends. You recognize friends by the fact that you can say silly things to them without being held accoun­table for them.

We all need to be able to talk freely without preparing too much and being told that we would have been able to find the answer to the question ourselves if we had just thought about it a bit longer, or that we are talking nonsense. Talking nonsense once in a while helps us to be able to express ourselves in a concen­trated and polished manner at other times. Always speaking in polished manner ignores the diffe­rences of the situa­tions and reveals the false ambition of egocentric people.

Talking nonsense, cracking jokes about yourself, saying crazy things and having fun – with the right crowd that knows how to use language well, this can turn in to the best sponta­neous cabaret ever. All you need is some allusions, little plays on words, unaccus­tomed word combi­na­tions, neolo­gisms, thought reversals or puns to set off a cascade of jokes, getting better and better the longer you go. This is high-level goofiness and parti­ci­pating in it is high-level enjoyment – true synergy arising from having fun.

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