Utilising Communication Skills for Personal Development (Part 11)

Speaking for Social Integration

Speaking can be a great social asset to anyone who uses it wisely. This presupposes that there are unwise uses of the mouth. Some of the ways words can be used unwisely include:

§ Criticism and condemnation

§ Argument

§ Insulting or Abusing another/Denigration of another person.

On the other hand, the productive use of the spoken words can enhance one’s social acceptance and integration. Some of the positive uses of the tongue towards social development are:

§ Encouragement or positive reinforcement

§ Appreciation of the other person

§ Counsel and advice

Let us first examine the various wrong uses of the words in social interaction: Criticism is one thing most of us find so easy to do: we criticize the government, we criticize our friends and colleagues, we criticize our leaders and bosses; and we criticize people who are not even remotely related to us. However, the amusing part of this is that most of us never or rarely criticize ourselves. We are the saints in the spectrum of our own opinion.

Meanwhile, if you must fare well in the society of men, one lesson you must learn very well is how to keep your critical opinion of others to yourself; you must learn to be less judgmental and accept people for what they are, warts and all. Just like you and I, people rarely criticize themselves for whatever reason. If asked, everyone would proffer a reason for doing whatever they are being criticized for — irrespective of how unreasonable it may sound to others. Therefore, criticizing such a person will definitely not be the best way to ingratiate yourself, but a sure way of ending up in his black book forever. Carnegie (1940:35) says this better:

If you and I want to stir up a resentment tomorrow that may rankle across the decades and endure until death, just let us indulge in a little stinging criticism — no matter how certain we are that it is justified.

When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.

This tells us what a great harm we cause others by indulging in the easy act of criticism. Anyone who is habitually critical will not have friends, as people will avoid intimate relationship with him. For as the Bible says, a man who would have many friends must first make himself friendly, not by criticism, but by warm disposition.

While criticism is a negative comment on the action, attitude, works, or behaviour of someone else, condemnation is a judgmental remark about someone’s personality. Condemnation is stronger and more dangerous than criticism because of its directness.

Anyone who is critical will also be judgmental. And a judgmental person rarely has friends due to his disposition. People avoid such a person like a plague because they are not usually good company to have around. A critical and judgmental person cannot integrate well in the society because people will not accept him except they have no choice.

Besides, habitually condemning others is playing God. This, in itself, is a most grievous offence because there is no perfect person under heaven, and so no mortal has the locus standi to judge the personality of another. Moreover, the only perfect Person Who has ever lived did not go around condemning people in His days, which makes it more unjustifiable for any lesser mortal to do so; instead He welcomed all to Himself and was especially friendly with those who were considered outcast in the society because of their intolerable vices.

The case of a woman who was “caught in the very act” of adultery was particularly striking in this instance. Knowing His disposition to all sinners, the Pharisees and experts in the law dragged the woman to Him desiring to hear His opinion before they go ahead anyway to stone her to death as the law decreed for such offence:

They said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throne a stone at her first”. And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord”. And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more. (John 8:4–11).

In this wise, Carnegie (1940:36), quoting Johnson, says “God Himself does not propose to judge a man until the end of his days, why should I?”

Argument is another wrong use of the mouth because it breeds nothing but ill will. Nobody likes to lose an argument, which is why people will continue to argue on and on in order to save face, even after they discover that they are wrong. You can then imagine how the society will react to anyone who is parochial and argumentative. Such a person does not usually enjoy societal acceptance, and the degree that the society accepts you is the degree to which you can be integrated therein for your own good. Here is Carnegie’s (1940:132–133) advice on how to treat argument:

I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument and that is to avoid it. Avoid it as you would rattlesnakes and earthquakes. Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants being more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right. You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.

So rather than indulge in an argument that will end up fostering ill-will between you and others, why not expend your effort speaking on common grounds that will be of benefit to you all. And in line with this beneficial discourse, let us now consider some of the right uses of the speaking skill for social development.

The first thing to note in this regard is that the content of your spoken communication is usually a strong indication of the workings of your mind as well as your total personality. The Bible says, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7), while another verse says, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). These passages establish the relationship between the man, his words and his thoughts. Benson (undated:154) says, “weak minds talk about people; mediocre minds talk about events, but great minds talk about ideas”.

In a related comment, Fieger also (2005) says:

Below average people talk about other people; average people talk about things, events and circumstances; above average people talk about ideas; supper successful people talk about their own ideas and visions.

He further expatiates thus:

Below average people are affirming the success (or failure) of others; average people are affirming the control that outside things, events and circumstances have on their success (or failure); above average people are affirming that it is ideas that contribute to success; super successful people are affirming that their own success and destiny is in their own ideas and visions.

All these tell you that a high expectation is required in the contents of your spoken communication with other people. Platitudes and other debased words should be far from your mouth as a communicator. Let us now consider the right application of the speaking skills in social discourse.

As stressed in the quotes above, exchange of ideas, ideals, and vision with other people is usually a stimulating experience. It takes deep thinking and observation to derive ideas, ideals and vision. Therefore, a social intercourse geared toward this end cannot but be rewarding to all participants. Although, it may not be so easy to be an idealist or visionary speaker at first, but continual effort will make it a habit and elevate the person above the level of the commons to the height of nobility.

Self-disclosure is another positive use to which the tongue can be deployed for social integration. According to Tardy and Dindia (1997), self-disclosure has the potential to change the direction, the definition, as well as the intensity of relationships. They also posit that it helps in the initiation and maintenance of meaningful relationship, hence the social development of the persons involved.

The last recommended use of the tongue in social discourse, which we shall consider in this paper, is Appreciation or Positive Reinforcement, as it is otherwise called. Words of appreciation and compliment cost a speaker nothing but his or her ego. And since most people do not want to see others better than themselves, they would rather hold back the compliment or words of encouragement due to such persons so that they do not affirm the betterment of that person compared to themselves.

However, in order to achieve social integration, a communicator has to live above himself and express sincere compliment to whom it is due. By doing this, you are not just making yourself acceptable, but you are also adding immense value to the other person by reinforcing him or her to repeat in the future the noble act for which you are complimenting him.

Indeed, in the words of Benson (undated), we all live by encouragement and die without it — slowly, sadly and angrily. Workers need the encouragement of their superiors to perform better; bosses need the positive feedback of their workers to do better; children need the encouragement of their parents to develop into rounded individuals; parents need the appreciation of their children to boost their self esteem; husband and wife, friends, and colleagues need the encouragement of one another to perform better. So, it is a symbiotic phenomenon.

To wrap up our discourse on the importance of appreciation in enhancing social fitness, let us consider the words of Charles Schwab, former president of the US Steel and one of the first two people to ever earn a million dollars as salary in a year. He is quoted by Carnegie (1940:43–44) to have said:

I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among the men… the greatest asset I posses, and the way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.

There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a man as criticism from his superiors. I never criticize anyone… I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise

In my wide association in life, meeting with many and great men in various parts of the world… I have yet to find the man, however great or exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth a greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism.

No wonder he was considered one of the finest men in corporate history. Anyone who wants the world to beat a footpath to his house must be generous with compliment and encouragement. There is no better way to always have good company around you than by lavishing praise on and approbating people heartily.