Being a keen writer, I have a great love of language, especially written words. Written words though, as moving, inspiring, harrowing, or uplifting as they can be, are only a part of the story of language.
With words on the page, or on the screen, it’s easy to misinterpret, to lose meaning. For example, one person’s attempt at humour or irony might be completely misread by the recipient, who takes great offence.
Verbal language gives us a whole new level of communication with our basic building blocks, our words.
It’s intriguing how people use their words to subtly manipulate others, hardly aware they’re even doing it.
Manipulate is possibly too strong a word, there’s not necessarily anything sinister, or any bad intentions behind the language, but it’s softened and sweetened with the verbal equivalent of a spoonful of warm honey, to give the speaker a higher chance of getting what they want.
A simple example:
Say you’re stuck with a particular problem in your work, nothing huge, but something you could really use some help or advice with.
You could say to a colleague: “Can you help me?” and it would get across what you wish in basic terms.
But what if you said: “James, I’d really appreciate your advice on a little part of what I’m working on, can you spare me just a moment or two please?”
Maybe this is just basic manners and politeness. But adding to your request words like “really appreciate”, “just”, “a moment”, “spare me”, you make it much more likely the other person will help you out. In a very subtle way.
Maybe more importantly, you might use these same kind of cloaked sweetenings of language on yourself.
“I’ll just check my emails in case, then I’ll get down to creating.”
“I’ll just have another little tiny slice of cake, I’m going to the gym for a good workout later anyway, it won’t hurt.”
Or, a classic I’ve certainly used myself. You see something in a shop you don’t really need and are rather expensive, but you get that material lust, that itch and craving you can’t seem to deny.
Personally, trainers are a bit of a weakness. So I’ll see some new Nike Air Max that are £89 or something crazy, and think I probably shouldn’t spend that much on a pair of shoes I don’t need.
So I look around the shop and see some other, also very desirable shoes, that are maybe only £39. In my head, I’m saying: “Bargain, you’ve just saved yourself £50!” and for that moment I manage to conveniently forget that I don’t need new trainers at all and if I didn’t buy any I’d save another £39!
I’m not judging here, or saying this is wrong. I’m just saying be honest with yourself, and the language you use, especially to yourself. Don’t kid yourself.
Negative language and conversations with your inner critic is a whole other area, that’s best left for a future post. For now, observe the subtleties in your own language, and notice when you maybe are just trying to pull the wool over your own eyes a little.
You don’t need to become like a strict headmistress or headmaster, deconstructing and analysing every syllable for possible evidence of some covert evil manipulation!
Just be open, and be true to you.