A Sign That It's Time To Do Something
Many people get so focused on learning and improving their technical skills that they have never paused to consider the “soft skills” that are just as important. Soft skills include communication and understanding of cultural expectations that may seem small and unimportant but really do serve a purpose of making people feel connected to each other.
Small talk is a good example. Small talk topics aren’t important, they’re often boring and silly, but that’s the point. The overall purpose of small talk is to help people feel comfortable by talking about something, anything, that isn’t controversial.
Small talk and other social speaking situations are some of the most difficult kinds of conversation for non-native speakers of English to participate in but they are important for a fulfilling work environment. They’re important for leadership roles because a major part of leadership is communication in a variety of situations, not just talking about the technical skills.
It’s also easy to overlook the importance of this kind of speaking because it’s not directly work-performance related. It can get pushed aside and ignored for a long time until the signs that it could be improved are hard to ignore any longer.
“Like an open wound”
I had it explained to me by a client in an unusual way that I will always remember. He said that when he was working he felt confident talking to anyone. He didn’t feel like he had problems being understood or understanding other people. However, during breaks when colleagues would gather in the break room and talk, he lost all his confidence. He didn’t know how to join in the conversation so he either didn’t talk while he was in the room or he just avoided the break room completely.
It was those times that he said it felt like he had a painful open wound that was being poked at and reminding him of how different he was. When he was working and talking about work topics, the wound would magically heal up and he’d forget about it.
The reason he hadn’t tried to improve his speech was because of the small amount of time that he was reminded of it being an issue. The majority of time spent doing actual work was fine. Speaking with his family at home was fine. Over time, the short times the wound was making him aware of his differences built up until he wanted to do something about it.
A common refrain in the post-lesson evaluation and discussion is people telling me how lessons made such a big difference in their life because, like this individual, they didn’t have any feelings of dread at break time anymore. They had better and longer conversations with colleagues that made them feel a part of the team. For him, the goal wasn’t to speak perfectly, it was to speak to be understood in all situations, including social ones, not just the technical speaking situations. Basically, his quality of life improved and that’s the most rewarding goal and achievement.
The analogy of “an open wound” was definitely unusual but I think it expresses his experience and feelings in a visceral way that other people who have felt that way can relate to. It was something small that became a bigger problem over time until he took that sign seriously. Don’t overlook the small signs, they may be helping you find solutions.