Use Your E.A.R
EAR: Expectation - Action - Review = Build a Positive Upward Spiral
EAR: Expectation - Action - Review = Build a Positive Upward Spiral
This is an activity that builds upon the perspective that “the lack of negative is positive”:
The goal of this activity is to compare what your expectations are to the actual consequences of a speaking action to increase confidence and create a positive, upward spiral to cycle through those actions again and again.
Trying something new with the way you speak can be intimidating because there is something at risk, it’s really representing the inner you and you’re putting yourself out there. It’s easy to understand why so many people can practice something new and sound great in the privacy and safety of practice sessions at home (or with me in lessons) but never apply it in their daily lives. If I try that (whatever it is) people will notice and will laugh at me/think I’m weird. That’s the end of it. Some people get beyond that but build a reality that matches their negative expectations because they don’t recognize the positive results.
A negative, downward, confidence spiral sounds like this:
Expectation - I’ll try it, but people __________ (fill in the blank with a negative thought such as “won’t understand me” or “will think I’m faking it” or “will think I’m not proud of where I’m from”).
Action - I’m trying it. (No specific plan).
Review - I tried it, but people _________ (fill in the blank with a negative reaction such as “looked confused”).
The negative results are all they notice, and most unfortunately, what they remember the most. If they were understood, if there wasn’t a negative reaction, they disregard that success as just a chance occurrence such as “those people were already used to how I talk, so they could understand me” or “It’s easy to order fast food by just saying the number.” When people understand what you say, they just reply to it. They don’t stop and congratulate you. You have to look for the lack of a negative reaction such as the confused face or being asked to repeat something over and over, as a positive reaction. When you notice the positive result, acknowledge that you did something well and take credit for it. It wasn’t just by chance.
If you never got into a negative downward spiral of doubt and negative reinforcement, that’s great, you’re starting on even ground. If you did, that’s okay, it’s a hard thing to resist, but there’s something you can do to turn it around - build a new reality from comparing your expectations to the results, looking for the lack of negative as positive, and making small changes to improve your next interaction.
A positive, upward, confidence spiral sounds like this:
I’m going to try _____ that I’ve practiced and feel that I can do it well. I’m going to try this with ______ (who) at ________ (situation).
Expectation - I expect that they will understand me/reply to me/answer my question/take my order. -OR- I expect them to ask me to repeat because nobody understands me the first time.
Action - I’m trying this new way of speaking and if that doesn’t work I’ll pay attention to figure out what I can do differently next time.
Review - I tried it. Possibilities:
They understood me/replied to me/answered my question/took my order.
= Success, my preparation paid off.
They didn’t understand me the first time, I had to try again and focus on using the style that I had practiced.
= Success that took more effort.
They didn’t understand me the first time, I got nervous and went back to my old/habitual style of speaking.
= Helpful for knowing what to practice and using strategies for next time.
I noticed details that can affect being understood that aren’t about my speech at all, such as the noise in the room and the attention of my listener.
= Helpful for identifying variables out of your control.
Preparation for next time - Consider what preparation helped and what more to practice for the next attempt.
Take credit for the actions you can control, take notice of the variables you can’t control, prepare, and look for the lack of negatives as positives. Repeat.
Use your EAR - Expect - Action - Review
Try to do something that you might not normally do, maybe that’s asking for directions from a stranger, ordering through the drive-thru, asking for help finding a book in the library/bookstore, asking a stranger what time it is, complimenting someone on their clothes, talking to someone in line at the grocery store or elevator, ordering food on the phone, anything you want that involves talking to someone. It’s often easier to start with people you don’t know because they have no expectations of what you sound like, as you get more confident apply your speaking practice with people you do know.
Practice a short phrase, sentence, or question that you want to say.
Expect - How will the listener react? Or, how do people usually react when you’re in that situation?
Action - Try it.
Review - How did the listener actually react? Did it go as you expected?
If it did, what do you think helped you succeed?
If not, what will you do differently next time? What other variables could have contributed to being misunderstood? (multiple people talking, sound of dishes and glasses, noise on the train, listener doesn’t know much about that topic, etc.)
Examples from former students
Where I will try it: A home fitness equipment store.
What I expect: People always ask me to repeat what I say and ask where I’m from.
What I tried: I talked to one of the employees for about five minutes. We talked about the different types of body fat testing machines that they sell. I was asking a lot of questions about how they work and how accurate they are.
What happened: She never asked me to repeat a question nor she asked me where I was from which I get a lot. Maybe not because I was talking very American but because she was able to understand me well so she didn’t feel the need to ask.
It was a good experience because I got to ask a lot of questions about the equipment I wanted to buy, and I didn’t have to repeat myself so it wasn’t frustrating at all.
Where I will try it: In a training class at work.
What I expect: People will look at me to see who is talking because they can’t understand me.
What I tried: I never raise my voice or ask in front of many people like in the big meeting or in class. But this time, I have raised my voice in a training class.
What happened: I feel kind of weird but all people react normal to me, more than I expected. That is a good experience and I will not be shy to ask questions in front of many people anymore.
What these two examples have in common is that they expected negative results but didn’t get them. It would have been easy to overlook the fact that the store employee never asked Jose to repeat what he said or that nobody stared at Bao or asked him to repeat what he said in the training class if they hadn’t had this assignment and been taking notes about their experiences. Since the positive results are so ordinary and easy to overlook, you have to intentionally look for them:
Not asked to repeat.
No confused face on the listener.
Not asked where you’re from.
Your question is answered.
Conversation keeps going on.
Conversations are longer.
You get the correct order for food/coffee.
These students were applying what we were practicing in my accent modification class to their real world speaking situations. No matter how you’re learning and working on improving your English speaking skills, every time you learn something new, practice at home then take it out to try in the world. Make mental notes in the speaking situation, then make written notes in a speaking journal. Keep track of the hidden positives that you experience to help you remember them. Eventually, your positive experiences will outnumber the negative ones.