It looks like I've linked you here myself. Linking people to a blogpost I wrote is often a bit akward, especially at work.
I likely shared this blog in an attempt to further a conversation. Usually the post does a better job at succinctly sharing information than I could by talking.
In any case, I hope me sharing this post doesn't come across as humblebragging, that's really the opposite of what I'm trying to achieve.
Thanks for reading!
I’m naturally a talker, always ready to share stories or an opinion. While I’m aspiring to gain more of the humility and thoughtfulness that I admire in good listeners, there’s a few insights about using language effectively that have made me a better communicator already.
Word choice is so important. Picking the right word can quickly and accurately convey meaning, especially when jargon is involved.
Yet, I’ve found that not picking the best possible word immediately isn’t so much a problem: we get to use more words to further explain ourselves.
Picking the wrong word(s) however, often has much more impact as it can derail an entire conversation.
While most of us know this intuitively, for me this insight has become much more explicit since learning about Amygdala Hijacking. I first encountered this term in Lara Hogan’s excellent book Resilient management.
Wikipedia describes Amygdala Hijacking as “an emotional response that is immediate, overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.”
I’ve found that such a response often occurs when dealing with:
In my experience, once you’ve triggered the Amygdala Hijack response in someone, there’s usually no recovering from that during the same interaction.
In order to avoid Amygdala Hijacking, here’s some things I try to practice:
Avoiding racial terminology: For example: “Master and slave architecture”, “Master branch”, “whitelist and blacklist”. Often these terms are so engrained in us that we don’t see the harm in using them because in our heads these words are completely decoupled from race and have gotten a different meaning. Yet, there’s no denying the horrible socio-historical background of these words. There’s almost no effort in avoiding these words, yet doing so acknowledges the grave wrong doings of the past and shows willingness to work on a better future. Little effort for us, big deal for others.
Avoiding sexism: For example mansplaining things, defaulting to male names or pronouns in examples, or even using “guys” to address a mixed crowd. This requires constant awareness for men, because even with the best of intentions and widest of exposure, some things are so spoon-fed to men by media and society that we don’t even realize that they’re hurtful and reinforcing gender inequality.
Piecemeal feedback: Don’t wait to deliver feedback until there’s a whole laundry list. Rather, deliver feedback in smaller chunks and close to when the situation occurred. This is difficult, because we tend to think it’s a good idea to determine whether there’s pattern before going through the delicate exercise that is feedback delivery. After all, we all have bad days and make one-off mistakes. The problem with this is that it easily becomes an excuse to let feedback pile up until it becomes a real issue. Don’t let that happen by delivering constructive feedback early on and building relationships in which two-way feedback is normal and not a taboo.
Taking an others-first approach: To quote from Resilient Management:
If [someone] is open about a tough piece of news, please do not respond in a way that requires them to reassure you. Sentiments like “It makes me feel sick to my stomach hearing what happened to you” or “I’m so sad that you’re having to go through this” refocus the sympathy on you, inappropriately.
In the same category:
To clarify: there is nothing inherently wrong with saying these things, I’ve just found more success with the latter. This is hard because it often means putting your ego aside or taking blame for something you had no part in.
The right amount of swearing: It’s ok to swear occasionally: it makes you authentic. Very few people actually still get offended when you use the word Fuck. I like the word shitshow. However, it’s important that you use it sparingly and only in small groups you have a prior relationship with. Critically important: swear at situations, never at people. Use it to emphasize feelings (”you’re right, that process is a shitshow”), not to fingerpoint or deal with situations where you don’t feel in control. Some believe swearing in the right context might not only be authentic, it might even be beneficial.
Specific personal pet peeves: These words tend to trigger me
I want to emphasize that none of these are hard truths, the balancing act here is to stay authentic. Putting too much emphasis on these things can also make us become “corporate”, “politically correct” and ultimately unauthentic - even though it’s not always meant that way. Finding this balance is really difficult: being mindful is the key thought here.
And if at first you don’t succeed: try again. This stuff is difficult, even the best communicators slip up. So let’s not spend too much time overthinking and let’s not be too hard on ourselves, life has plenty of challenges already!