I’ve just returned from 10 days in London where I was struck afresh by just how eloquent the Brits are as a society. From the average man in the street being interviewed on Breakfast TV about the flooding of his home, to the witty repartee of the Tour Guide at the Tower of London, to the pre-schooler on the bus… they may not always express sentiments I agree with, but express themselves they certainly can!


By contrast, within 24 hours of my return, I happened to hear a radio interview with a veteran journalist who came across as practically incoherent. It was shocking : A man who is apparently regarded as a competent communicator being quizzed on his views about a vital subject and he simply could not string a lucid sentence together in its entirety. Sadly I find this is the rule rather than the exception here in South Africa.


I found myself wondering about the value we place on vocal expression within society as a whole. In the UK, people who are talented but somewhat inarticulate (like Wayne Rooney or David Beckham for instance), may be admired but are also somewhat subject to ridicule…… Being unable to express oneself is regarded as a serious problem! As a society, the UK (like many other First World Countries) invest a great deal of time and energy in clear communication and in building good communication skills from an early age.


The difference in approach is evident in many ways – Think Plain Language as a Government Communication Standard (the difference in the clarity of signage and instruction there and here is astonishing and greatly empowers citizens – even those for whom English is not their mother tongue)….. Think shows like University Challenge, and QI. I could list many more examples including the sheer volume of literature aimed at young children and the verbal richness of public environments.


fighting coupleIt frustrates me no end that in our country, where the subject matter is so critical and the issues so many, that we are often collectively hamstrung by the inability to engage in constructive, eloquent and expressive dialogue. In my opinion the frustration arising from this inability to properly express things is what leads us, all too often, into the rabbit hole of antagonism, confrontation and even physical hostility. It is a terrible waste of time and energy that could be better spent on trying to achieve genuine understanding, ways to reconcile our differing views and build a future together.


Some starting suggestions for people who want to improve their communication ability:


  • Banish expressions like “you know”, and filler words like “like” from your vocabulary – they are lazy and unhelpful when it comes to clear expression: If we knew we wouldn’t be bothering to ask, so don’t say “you know”… tell us what you think!
  • Practice speaking in full sentences. Many people drift off midway through a sentence into random expressions (like “like”!) or into some other semi-related thought. It makes the train of thought and logic incredibly hard to follow and the speaker comes across as infinitely less credible than if they used full sentences and completed the expression of individual ideas properly.
  • Start every conversation with the intention to listen properly as well…..not just to deflect criticism or dissent, but to try and understand where the objection or opposition is coming from, so that you can address the real underlying issue in your response and not just react to what is said… which is often a clumsy and inaccurate expression in itself. That means being willing to ask more questions to seek insight and clarify the questioner’s intent before responding. It may seem time-consuming and it requires inner restraint, but it pays dividends.


More on this topic will be forthcoming but try those three for starters.


Happy 2016… I look forward to a year of increasing eloquence!