I finally ordered one of the books on my Amazon wish list and it arrived yesterday. It's called How the way we talk can change the way we work. I haven't read it yet, so I can't comment in any detail on it. But the reason I had it on my list was because I read a review of it somewhere (although I don't remember where). It's part of the genre of work around the language people use to make themselves understood or get things done, or conversely the way the language they don't use gets them stuck in conflict or confusion.
Deborah Tannen (whose books I have read and find thoroughly recommendable) is another researcher/writer in this field, and then I also liked the book Change your questions change your life which has good, practical ideas in it.
Then I was looking through the strategy+business website looking for an article on the Tata family business which I'd just read in the strategy+business magazine but was a little baffled that I couldn't find it and then more baffled that the cover they have on their site as 'current issue' is not the same as the 'current issue' that's on my kitchen table. So I just have to work out what happened here. However, that is a sidenote because what I did find on their website – that I'd also previously read but forgotten was the piece on Fernando Flores who sounds a fascinating character. (Mystery solved: I have a hardcopy Spring 2010 issue and their website is still on Winter 2009 issue).
He is of the view that "most communication between individuals consists not of pure information, but of prompts for action. This concept was first articulated by Cambridge University professor J.L. Austin in a series of lectures published posthumously in 1962 as How to Do Things with Words. Just in the act of saying something, Austin proposed, people can create tangible change, as when the starter at a race shouts "Go!" Flores adds that by using language deliberately, a person can consciously shape his or her future – not in some fuzzy New Age sense, but on the more pragmatic level of constructing possibilities by giving voice to them. "Will you marry me?" opens up a potential life together, and "Write a marketing plan by Tuesday" might lead to a new business, even a new industry."
So this thread of learning how to change oneself and interactions with others for the better seems to be the one that has presented itself to me today. It matters to me because
a) I write a good deal and need to be clear. Thankfully in my current work the editor is terrific. He makes wonderful comments like "rest of this para comes across as a bit jargony and complicated: be good to use good old plain English" and "give a less gushy example".
b) I speak UK English and but live in the US – plenty of room for error here in what I say v what I expect people to understand from this.
c) I like the language aspect – at university I wrote a dissertation paper on George Orwell – another fanatic about plain English – which led me towards a little more clarity it writing. And I always remember William Empson (one of my teachers there) taking a red pen and crossing out all the redundancies in one of the long papers I'd written. It left about 4 meaningful sentences in the entire piece.
d) I am teaching a program in China in March and have started to mull over what I need to adjust in my language to make it understandable to the participants. I haven't had any formal training in working with people whose first language is not English – though I work a lot with them.
e) A lot of the organization development training that people in this field gets seems to miss out the linguistic aspects of organization development. I think it would be a useful addition.
So today – I'll skim through the Kegan/Lahey book, and continuing culling the draft of my book cutting out all jargon, gushiness, management guff, and other hurdles to making my point.