As facilitators and trainers our language is our primary tool. The words you choose, how you say something and the silence in the sentence will impact your learners and audience. I have become curious as to how much thought is given about the questions we ask in training, whether we pause and think about the words we say as we summarise a conversation or are we on automatic pilot when in familiar situations or company. So this is where we found ourselves on 8th May at the SOF breakfast meeting, a uniquely formed group who were inquisitive enough about language and breakfast.
The circle opened up with an observation from Davie Freeman (Greene King) that when he trains pub owners he has noticed that to keep a group engaged he dials up his energy, gets more enthusiastic and in turn talks more. The rye smiles and sage nodding from the full time facilitators empathised with Davie. We have all been there. Group goes silent or looks disinterested therefore we talk more. Fill the painful silence with our words and passion and maybe someone will talk to us. I have learnt that sitting with the silence of the group can be as equally powerful as the noise of my words. Learning to frame the relevant question to draw people into the conversation is a potential solution to Davie’s situation. Other suggestions to support Davie’s predicament included standing in the shoes of your group, what do you notice about the ebb and flow of the workshop? Is the design working for the learners or the trainers?
The conversation took a turn to the language we use in our training. One of our colleagues shared that there is banned list of words on a poster in the coffee area where she works. She works in a department of Government that has numerous contractors and the contractors have stated that they do not want jargon used when communicating or presenting. As a facilitator how many of us talk in code and jargon? How do we adapt to meet people where they are at? How do you flex and change your reference points of language when you work with new clients or groups?
Reflect on your most common work, what words or sentences do you favour? Are there phrases or words you use regularly? Do they make sense to people who are not part of your world? When I start working with a new client whose world I have no experience of I often find myself asking them to clarify what they are saying, decode the TLAs (!) and I joke with them that they are talking their own language. I have worked with multiple companies who have issued their own dictionary to help demystify what is being said. What’s wrong with keeping it simple?
It is useful to note that our language can either constrain us or free us. Our language is a reflection of our internal world and our map of the world creates our reality. Another moment to reflect – which words do you find yourself using a lot, how do they impact you or your groups? Notice which words we hang on to. They may have unconscious meaning for us, bring us comfort and remind us of a time when…….
Whilst talking is key component of language, listening and silence were discussed also. A few comedy moments occurred early on as Jo Bamford from Bacon6 introduced herself and someone asked her if her business was called Baconsex. The listener was Australian and commented that six and sex sound similar when said by a kiwi. Whilst the mistake made us laugh it reminded us that listening is important and even the most clued in ear can make a mistake. Similarly Lisa McPartland from CAT Innovation was mistaken for a hairdresser which again the listener admitted they thought this is what had been said earlier. Lisa is in fact a presentation skills coach though admits to a penchant for fashion and fantastic haircuts. So how do you listen? How do you refrain from running an inner dialogue as you listen to a group discussion? When the inner dialogue starts the listening stops. Its ok to pace yourself, slow down and listen to what is being said before responding. If you know you have a propensity to drift off inside your head when delivering an exercise you can practise is this – find a talk radio station, notice how long you can listen to the DJ before drifting off inside your head. Gently bring yourself back to the conversation on the radio. Slowly build up the length of time you stay engaged with the outside conversation vs the internal dialogue.
A final conversation was around working with different energy types – the introvert and the extrovert. How do you work with both types to create an engaged group with a balance of opinions? How do you entice the level headed thinking and feelings of the introvert into the room whilst managing the exuberance and enthusiasm of the extrovert to accept a minutes silence to reflect? Thankfully we had both types in the room and when those with a preference for introversion spoke up you could see the pennies dropping for the extroverts.
Some thoughts for the extroverts:
Be aware of your provocative language.
Are those adjectives a reflection of the reality or your reality?
Create a space, a pause to enable others to speak.
Some people are happy to observe and don’t need to be in the thick of the conversation.
Learn to be quiet and not the first to answer every time.
How to approach an introvert:
Do not put them on the spot when you ask a question. Move from the present to asking for an opinion.
A common question is ‘What are you thinking?’ try ‘What would your reflections be?’ or ‘What would be your opinion or observations?’
Expect there to be a pause before an answer is given.
Its amazing how quickly 90minutes can disappear when you are talking about a subject you find interesting. We didn’t touch on language patterns, questions or tone. We have yet to explore the world of metaphors, stories and analogies. And what of our language when we open or close a session, give instructions to groups or using inclusive language? This is a rich and interesting territory which we will continue to explore another time.