Your Communication Skills Can Always Improve

Last weekend I was at a friend’s house watching a horrible Korean film that shall remain unnamed. After all, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, and all that. But I will say that everything that is critically acclaimed is not what it’s cracked up to be.

The film’s lead character, someone I’ve seen and enjoyed in other Korean media, was so frustrating in this role I couldn’t help but scream at the screen. His behavior was so asinine, immature and nonsensical at one point I yelled out, “Is this dude retarded?”

My friend snapped, “Don’t use that word.”

I didn’t get it. “What word?”

Retarded.

“Why?”

“Do I have to send you articles?”

I didn’t appreciate the sarcasm, but I apologized. You should respect a person’s home, and she’s a friend, so I’m not going to get in my feelings about it. It did make think though.

First thing I did was look up the word. I used it correctly – contextually. But the first thing I saw when I Googled the word was “dated.” So, that told me that it while I may have been contextually accurate, it has gone out fashion, and is no longer in common use.

The second thing I saw beside the word dated was, “offensive.” That’s a serious no go for me.

I pride myself on my vocabulary. Being an effective communicator is how I make my living, after all. But I also genuinely love words. Their ability to tell a story that will touch people, effect change, incite feelings, I can’t get enough.

I have never used the word retarded to refer to a disabled person. I don’t even think that would occur to me. But I have used the word to issue commentary on questionable behavior from people who, in my opinion, should know better.

That said, if the common zeitgeist dictates the word is problematic – and I read several articles that emphatically stated that is so – I have no problem acquiescing to common practice. Words have power, and our use of them to communicate sends true and false, clear and unclear messages about who we are. I can’t say I’m overly concerned with others opinion of me, as a rule, but I am savvy to know when it’s in my best interest to learn and level up.

Our communication skills can always improve. With that in mind, for the past few days I have done my best not to swear at all. I’m sorry to say that I have failed miserably.

Now, I’ve always maintained proper decorum in the workplace. There have been a few exceptions – y’all know I can’t bear to lie – but on the whole I respect the need to clean up ones language in a professional setting. No one in the workplace should be subjected to unprofessional language or behavior. It’s simply not done. It’s distracting, disarming, and when you work for someone else, you should follow their rules, implicit or explicit.

I don’t mind that either. It’s like straightening one’s back, or donning a special dress when you walk into the office or into a meeting and communicate a certain way. You feel different, you are perceived differently, and you can often accomplish different, perhaps very special, things.

Further, I’ve always admired people who don’t swear. I grew up with it, so it’s learned behavior – and stress relief – that’s been hard for me to shake. But women in particular who speak without swearing are, in my almost certainly dated opinion, just a bit more refined and elegant than a potty mouth.

It’s not easy. Not swearing, just like being consistently good and nice, requires a certain mental fortitude, especially if you’ve been doing it. Let’s face it. There are so many situations where an F-bomb just feels right, you know? I’m joking. Sort of.

But I have been trying, despite failing, to speak without swearing at all, and I’ve noticed that my speech has changed for the better. I don’t think I was lacking before – a girlfriend recently bust a gut laughing when I casually slipped the word plebian into conversation – but now I’m more precise, more thoughtful in how I express myself. Not just because I’m watching my mouth, but because I’m searching for the exact right words to convey my thoughts.

Cuss words are like verbal emotions. They’re clear, evocative, meaningful and with the right tone, they convey so much often with so little. But they can make one quite lazy. When those little four-letter words can emote so much, it’s easy to lean on them rather than search out alternatives.

My problem is, I have a mental thesaurus bursting with alternatives. I just don’t hate cussing. But I’m going to keep trying to eliminate those words completely.

It suits living well, I think. A woman who is on top of her game makes the odd cuss word an accent, a punch line that makes people laugh, lightens the mood or raise a brow simply because those words are not common on her tongue.

Words like retarded, however, I won’t find tough to let go of. It’s not a word I used very often anyway. I’m very happy I learned of its sad history, and it’s my pleasure to place it firmly in the penalty box and walk away without a backward glance.

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