Wednesday, September 05, 2007

words matter (but not in the way you might think)

Today I begin working with new classes of very young business people. Although some will hide it better than others, most will resist coming to my communication classes. They know they do not know. They know their spelling is bad, their sentence formation unreliable, and the whole process of writing and speaking runs according to rules they just do not get.

What I will teach them is that words matter - and so do lots of things that they can handle better than words. The truth is that no one has 'the right words' all of the time or in all of the situations where they want them. None of us has precise control over what we will say next or what it will mean to the person who hears. Even following all of the rules does not guarantee success.

The good news is that breaking the rules does not guarantee failure.

The good news is that the mistakes we make with words can teach us as much about ourselves, our circumstances and our goals as the words we choose with what feels like better accuracy. All of our lives are improvisation, a constant adaptation to the actions we take and the actions the world takes around us. Words are not as precise or as stable as we think. That's why they are able to add value in a world of continuous change.

To think of words as less or more important than the total package of our thinking or communication is to miss the point entirely. Breathing is not the most important part of being a human being, yet none of us manage to do much unless we are breathing. Words matter as breath matters. It's better to get them a little bit wrong than to stop using them altogether.

My students will get as much wrong as they get right. They will break a lot of rules. Nonetheless, very few of them will write something I cannot understand. Very few of them will speak so badly that they cannot be heard. Words matter - because they support our process of communicating without defining it entirely. Rules matter - because they facilitate communication as they facilitate the way we play different games.

What matters most is the intention to communicate.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

So many people today miss this very important principle. The trees are important but it is the forest that is the real beauty.

bruce said...

So many people miss this important princple these days. The trees are important but it is the forest that is the real beauty.