Janet Brady, PhD

Organisational Linguist

How can linguistics help managers?

Surprise is usually the response when people discover I use linguistics to help managers and other professionals. “Linguistics?” they say. “Not psychology?” Someone has even asked me how I handle psychopaths.

I remind them that the work of managers involves a lot of talking such as briefing others, giving feedback, and managing teams of diverse individuals. All these require good communication skills, a key focus of linguists.

I also get asked, “Don’t you focus on talk? What about body language? Doesn’t that represent 93% communication?”

This widely-accepted statistic is a misrepresentation of the research findings of Albert Mehrabian who states that his research only applies to situations in which an individual talks about attitudes and feelings.

Linguists don’t ignore body language. We use different labels such as gesture, movement and stance, and tone, stress and volume. We pay close attention to other factors as well such as context, type of activity and power relationships such as manager-subordinate.

Linguists also consider the role of symbols and material objects in communication. When Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a Dream” speech, he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. His opening lines linked the occasion – the largest demonstration for freedom at that time – to Lincoln’s achievement in saying “Five score years ago, a great American in whose shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation”.

So how can linguistics help managers? Linguists analyse cases of effective and ineffective communication. They identify the communication strategies used by people in real-world situations to help others learn how they can communicate more effectively. In other words, linguists help enable managers achieve their professional goals.

Consider the leadership capabilities below and the examples of activities that operationalise them. If you or someone you work with needs to improve how you perform these activities, consider how useful it would be to analyse the communication strategies used by more expert managers when they perform these activities. This type of learning enables you to expand your own communication toolkit.

  1. Developing others – using communication strategies to:
      • Articulate role knowledge to less experienced managers
      • Give constructive criticism i.e. negative feedback
      • Help others to harness learning from novel experiences
  1. Influencing others – using communication strategies to:
      • Align team members with team goals (speaking persuasively)
      • Supporting others to evaluate alternatives objectively
      • Change other’s perception of an unpopular task
  1. Driving results – using communication strategies to:
      • Delegate work effectively to more junior staff
      • Build relationships with peers and senior managers in other areas of the business
      • Reformulate business goals in terms of individual and team goals

As these examples suggest, applied linguistics offers useful resources to managers seeking to improve their communication skills.

Be Sociable, Share!

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

Feel free to connect on LinkedIn.