Try This at Your Next Business Meeting

July 20, 2011

Chris Reich offers some thoughts on business communicationI came across an article about created languages and it stimulated my thinking. There was one language based on simple symbols that represented concepts like a smile face for feeling happy. The main idea was to develop a means of universal communication. 

The problem that arises with simplified language is that the ability to nuance words is lost. After all, a smilie could represent many feelings within a spectrum. Jealous would be expressed as a frown face, the symbol for not happy.

Another language constructed to make a philosophical point, E-Prime is simply a version of English that forbids all forms of the verb ‘to be’ (is, was, were, etc). According to Alfred Korzybski, who promoted the language in his 1933 book Science and Sanity, E-Prime can be used to sharpen critical thinking and make ideas clearer. 

For example, in E-prime a person can’t say ‘This is an awful movie’: it must be rephrased as ‘I dislike this movie.’ ‘You’re wrong’ is also impossible: instead he must say ‘I disagree with you.’ Because of this, it’s easier for speakers and listeners distinguish expressions of fact from opinion.

On the other hand, following E-Prime to the letter becomes burdensome: ‘This is a flower’ must become something like ‘English speakers call this a flower.’ Today, E-Prime remains popular, but mostly just as an interesting thought exercise to improve clarity.

I think it would be very interesting to conduct a few business meetings banning all forms of the verb “to be”.

Most of the cloaked ‘toxic’ speech I’ve heard at meetings involves some form of the verb to be. Expression like, “is that really a good idea?” would have to be more directly expressed. What is interesting to me is that time frame we need to formulate a sentence without ‘to be’. Perhaps that pause and extra thought might lead to clearer and less deprecating communication.

Try it for a while. Put an idea on paper without using a form of ‘to be’. It does cause interesting things to happen in the mind.

All this assumes you’re working with people who know the tenses of “to be”. That alone may be a contribution to the education of your talent!

Chris Reich

Chris Reich

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