Here's a Hands-On Guide to the Power of Language
Speech is such a primary part of our work and lives that most of us take it for granted. We are what we say. This makes our talk powerful stuff.
As an expert in the field of linguistics, Sarah Myers McGinty, Ph.D., has much to say about the words we choose; if we want to move forward with our speech patterns to the level of a linguistic leader, her words are best heeded.
According to McGinty, there are two basic modes of communication: Language from the Center and Language from the Edge.
The first of these projects authority, and the other is collaborative, responsive and often just as effective. McGinty's book, Power Talk, is all about combining both of these styles into a unified front of strong, powerful speech.
Language from the Center
Language from the Center directs rather than responds, makes statements, uses the knowledge of an authority, contradicts, argues, disagrees and practices affect of control. It takes the lead and suggests to others competence and confidence. It is the language of leaders and makes people feel like the speaker can be trusted.
Language from the Center controls the flow of conversation with phrases like, "Let's get back to our first concern..." and "That's an interesting point but I think we need to stick with..." It leads listeners where the speaker thinks they should go. McGinty also writes that experts avoid using personal issues to make their points, and do not use "me too" stories to demonstrate their authority. Strong analogies and facts work better. "Neutrality supports authority," she writes.
Language from the Edge
Language from the Edge responds rather than directs, asks questions, works with protective strategies, avoids open argument and brings others into the conversation. It is much more careful compared to Language from the Center, and provides openings for others, includes other opinions in its patterns and explores rather than demands. It listens, learns and gathers instead of directing and controlling.
Certain jobs require Language from the Edge, like counselors, therapists, librarians and teachers. They don't set the agenda, but they respond with expertise when their opinions are necessary. Speakers with this style help others to be heard, responding rather than leading. It works well for collaborative team projects, and helps to include others. Objections come as questions rather than statements, because they ask for help and seek more knowledge. But, because of the judgments others make of those who ask questions, McGinty writes, "They need to be used with conscious intent."
Using Both Styles
The power in Power Talk comes from the cross-training that places both of these styles into a person's linguistic toolbox. When a speaker masters both of these patterns of speech, and is able to draw from the positive aspects of both, power results. Getting the best of both worlds demands looking inward and discovering how we sound to others, looking outward and seeing what strategies allow others to succeed, testing out new speech patterns in a friendly environment, and then using these new strategies in public. By becoming aware of your own speech patterns, the author explains that you will be able to figure out how speech "adds to the impression you make and the power you claim." Once you are self-aware, then you are ready to see the differences in other people's speech patterns, learn from them, and use similar patterns to increase your own effectiveness in the world of work.
Discussing the language culture of various workplaces, she explains that different situations require different verbal styles, and the process of learning and relearning is a constant. In business circles, she writes, the style of the leader is best studied to achieve upwardly mobile success.
Power Talk is about adaptation, and McGinty describes linguistic skills as those that will lead to survival and advancement. To get to the place where language can take the speaker further, she advises speakers to look in (learn about their own speech), look out (learn what style of speech works), try in (experiment with adopted speech patterns) and try out (integrate new speech techniques). By working smarter, not harder, McGinty writes that we can all become more effective communicators and advance our careers if we seek to better understand the sociology of language and put it to use in our work.