Sunday, March 03, 2013

Improving your choice of words

There's a truism that says you are more likely to hit something if you are aiming at it. We say things like "keep your eyes on the prize" and mean that paying attention to your outcome is likely to give you both a strategic advantage and the willpower to persist until you achieve what you want. We say these things because they represent a hard lesson.

Take, for instance, a desire to be better spoken, to be able to talk in a way that impresses people more favourably. Most people try out new words or model great speakers in a concentrated effort to improve their choice of words. Ironically, their very first steps take their eyes off the prize.

The prize is the good impression you make on a specific person or in a particular situation. And the only way to know how to make that impression is to become curious about the people and situation you want to influence. You need to notice what actually captures positive attention, what needs to be true for people to pay attention to words in this context, and what needs to be true in your audience for them to pay attention.

Then stay out of your own way.

The more attention you expend on thinking about your words or your positioning, the less attention you have to be genuinely responsive to the people you want to impress. What they are likely to notice is that your attention is not with them or with the content of your conversation: you are so busy trying to make an impression that you have little mental energy left for that. You are trying to make an impression. And we all know that the first rule of cool is that if you have to try to impress, you are not cool.

Instead, be curious and present and committed to using whatever comes up to move toward your outcome.  You will find that you say things that impress even you (in a good way). The key is to challenge yourself to be more attentive and responsive. Your brain knows how to track language, to pick up words that most closely correspond to things that matter, and to make the connections you need.

The roots of being well spoken are congruence and connection.


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