“Communication works for those who work at it.” -John Powell
Due to the virtual explosion of technology and social media over the last few years, we are now inundated with tweets, blogs, texts, emails, and other forms of communication. Many of these communications come from people we either know very little about or have yet to meet in person. Because of the lack of true familiarity, we get to know the creators of these communications–who they are, what they stand for, what makes them tick–through the words that they provide.
With their words, the creators of these communications do far more than share ideas or give information; they also reveal their identities. James Paul Gee (2011), Professor at Arizona State University, explains that through language–whether spoken or written–we can “take on different socially significant identities. We can speak as experts–as doctors, lawyers, anime aficionados, or carpenters–or as ‘everyday people.’ To take on any identity at a particular time and place we have to ‘talk the talk,’ not just ‘walk the walk'”(Gee, 2011, p. 2).
And while we are quick to judge others based on the words that they provide, we often fail to recognize the power of communication in our own lives–that our own use of words reveals to others who we are, what we stand for, and what makes us tick. With this simple insight, we can make a conscious decision to use language more carefully and deliberately. We can choose to use language in ways that not only reflect our beliefs and values, but also move us one step closer to our dreams and aspirations. In short, we can choose to communicate in ways that truly represent our emerging identities–the people we want to be and are in the process of becoming.
As a program coordinator at a university, I have been responsible for providing one-on-one instruction and creating personalized improvement plans for struggling students. More often than not, these students have been referred to me because of difficulties related to communication, and I have seen how communication has contributed to their successes and failures. In an effort to help these students ‘talk the talk’ (Gee, 2011, p. 2), I have addressed issues such as the oversharing of personal information (TMI, if you will), the failure to share critical information with appropriate authority figures (e.g., faculty, mentors), persistent grammatical errors, and many, many others.
Given the importance of communication–written and spoken–I thought it appropriate to devote an entire series of posts to it. In the series, I will address common communication mistakes, and offer tips and strategies to help you use communication to enhance your relationships with others, build (rather than destroy) your personal and professional reputation, and increase your chances of success in all areas of life. In the first few posts, I will address email, which remains the official form of written communication at most universities. Then, I will turn my attention to effective spoken communication.