Humans experienced language development early, but how far have we really come?

Debate surrounds the type of language used (grunts, sounds, words) or if language developed quickly, when people started speaking. Archaeologists are looking for clues and psychologists want to shed light on brain development and therefore, origins of language.

Conversation leads to more conflict and misunderstanding worldwide than any other human interaction. Every week you likely or hear conversations fails. You do not have to look deep into the public arena in Australia for examples. Is having a conversation with another person that tough? Let’s revisit some of the components to a conversation. They include; language, the messages, filters, bias, non-verbal communication, environment, timing and behaviours.

At the core is language. Language has evolved over thousands of years, and changed considerably. The mode in which communication occurs has impacted how people speak to each other, again influencing language changes.

Influences on language include culture, social issues, food, technology and even the increasing diversity and migration of the world’s population. There are thousands of languages in use. In more recent times, it has been discovered that some are being lost, no longer spoken, at all. There are projects world-wide, particularly for indigenous languages, to ensure their continued knowledge, stories and identity are maintained.

Language is unique to each individual. Initially influences are derived from childhood. Although a greater level of learning occurs to modify it socially, than any other skills learned in childhood. The evidence suggests that the significance of other relationships, like that of a teacher in early educational experiences and learning to read, greatly impact the development of lifelong development when it comes to language and more importantly conversation.

Conversation, regardless of purpose is imperative for everyone.  It improves vocabulary, cognition, wellbeing and social inclusion.

Having conversations as part of my everyday, here is what I have learned about conversation:

Your role, standing or position is never reflective of your conversations skills

Public officials, world leaders, clinical professionals, parents, teachers, whatever your role in life, it does not determine the competence of your conversation skills. These arise from a range of influences that include education, attitudes, beliefs, ego and environments.

Individuals at any level must be able to listen. This is required in partnership for conversation, to be more successful.

Acknowledgement, open-mindedness, reflective practice and attentive listening, will decrease the challenge. There is something in it for each individual, when challenge is not ignored but embraced, self-development and wellbeing are achievable goals.

To be real or not to be real, that is the question

Talking about what to say and what to leave out with individuals, is polarising. Self-awareness and confidence can guide, as will your moral compass, sense of compassion and leading a life by your design.  It is fair to say that some people have the capacity  to be real and some perhaps do not see the value, are undecided or incapable right now. Lead with honest appraisal, in conversation.

The importance of this can not be underestimated, and it is a skill that will be honed for a lifetime. Being real, factual and lead with questioning, not opinion. Remember the interaction is an intimate one, and a deeper level of self and self-awareness is required, to create equitable, safe and helpful conversations for continued development.

Conversation fatigue is a thing. Have you ever been in a conversation with an individual, time and time again, and in your head you are in another place? Often this situation is created because of the lack of transparency, self-awareness and judgement. Conversation with individuals that are faking it, is fatiguing. It often involves on your part the implementation of a complex algorithm in your head, about what is required of you to ensure they are not challenged, to avoid ideas outside of their capacity.

You do this as you are fatigued. You do it because they have destructive filters and bias. These lead to them becoming, combative, argumentative and not receiving the message as intended as they run interference.  How many of you can think of someone right now, where you do this?

If your conversations fall into this category more than those that are an exchange, create some awareness about what you get out of them. Think about how you may be able to change this, if it is not meeting needs. Recognise there are times when challenging even those that do not do well with challenge, is necessary and mutually beneficial.

Conversation Killers

If I was to ask you what influences your language and the way in which you speak to others, would you know this, and be able to explain it? Being aware of these is critical in understanding what you need, now and in the future, to modify them.

If in your childhood you were told that your role as a child was ‘to be seen and not heard’, then it is likely that in your adulthood, when individuals do not listen to you, that you become frustrated and this gives rise to conflict, shutdown, and increased stress as you fight to be heard. Adversely if you were talked to with respect, were encouraged to read and supported to do so, had open conversations, in adulthood it is more likely that you will lead with these approaches, have wider vocabulary and be more articulate than others.

In your workplace, what type of language, conversation and listening skills are prevalent and how does it influence your own conversation style, with individuals, teams and other individuals that you may support or interact with internally and externally?

This environment has significant impact for you personally and professionally in communication. When desired behaviour is being modeled by the organisation at the highest levels, you are more likely to adopt and promote the similar behaviours.

Modelling supports skills growth, as a leader you can support individuals to learn within an organisation. Do this and we know that it enhances mental health and wellbeing.  Get it wrong, and workplaces that kill conversation, pay enormously, millions of dollars each year here in Australia in workplace conflict, mental health issues and individuals leaving the workplace.

What does the evidence demonstrate in Australia

  • 91% believe mental health in the workplace is important (88% believe physical safety is important).
  • Despite this, only 52% of employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy compared to 76% for physical safety.
  • Only five in ten (56%) believe their most senior leader values mental health.
(State of Workplace mental health, Beyond Blue, bl1270-report—tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf, 2014).

Conversations are an intimate interaction with others. Just as other social interactions are giving and receiving energy and parts of yourself and the other person, it leaves an impression. Try to understand what is really happening. What values arise, to drive respectful conversations. Recognise the intricacies. Ask yourself every single time there is an exchange, what do you want others to walk away with, when they talk to you? Reassess what went well, and what did not.

When you consider your answer, it will determine the style of conversation. Reflect on language, intonation, tone, vocabulary and the non-verbal components of this interaction that include timing, environment and legacy. Do this, repeatedly, watch and learn from others, and you will not only increase your own skills for your conversations, you will strengthen it for others giving them the confidence they need to encourage competent conversation.