This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

How we talk matters

I saw a comment from my friend Mary Abraham about John Tomkins and his approach to how people talk to themselves (and to one another). His book is Not Crazy Yet? Then … Start Talking to Yourself Differently and it describes an idea about “red language” and “green language” in the way we talk to ourselves and to one another. (Book website)

Specifically, the idea is that when we use “red language” that has built in assessment and judgement, we tend to put ourselves and those around us on the defensive. And it makes it more difficult to think through the situation at hand because of those defensive reactions. Red language is full of “should” statements (explicit or implicit) - and it is those “shoulds” that create the reaction. These judgements are also very difficult to follow logically, which make following conversations difficult as well.

In Tompkins’ formulation “green language” is intended to be clear and descriptive without layering the judgements and assumptions. He proposes that we talk about Observations (things I can see, smell, touch, hear, taste), Feelings (my feelings - not how I think others feel; and not blaming, “you made me mad”), Thoughts (what I think - not what I assume you must have been thinking), and Wants (what I want/need). As I read, I really liked the ideas, and I could see how these would be easily turned “red” by turning these around with my assumptions about how others are thinking - I only know what is going on in my own head and what I can see in the world around me.

The reason I thought this would be helpful has to do with the clarity of language that we use when describing the world around us - either the current reality or the desired reality. While it does that to some extent, my take on the book is that it is more a self-help or self-reflection book. There definitely elements of the language discussion that will help improve how I communicate and how I can ask questions of people to clarify what they are seeing as well. The biggest element for me is the idea of removing the judgement from a description: this is what IS, rather than this is what it SHOULD be (and isn’t).

Interesting food for thought.

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