I recently found myself delving into my faded and worn copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. Yes, it’s true; despite all the online dictionaries and the fact that you can type anything into Google these days and it will give you a billion answers and options, I still like to have an old fashioned paper dictionary sitting on my desk for reference.
Why? Because it sits as a visual reminder to me that I occasionally don’t know the definition of every single word I hear or read. Don’t get me wrong, I have a pretty decent vocabulary but having a dictionary by my side helps me to avoid falling into the trap of engaging in conversations when I’ve not fully understood every word.
In any form of communication, be it written or verbal, confidence and our ability to relax with both the subject matter and the audience lies at the heart of our personal impact. Without a strong foundation of confidence any techniques we develop or learn stand on unstable ground – ever had a moment when you think you’re about to be ‘found out’? That’s our lack of confidence spilling over into our thought process. It’s what makes us feel tense, trip over our words, speak too fast, develop the all telling sweaty top lip. In our courses we work to help people overcome those fears, to develop coping strategies and ultimately build confidence.
But a little known confidence booster that we can all develop every day of our lives is our vocabulary.
A greater vocabulary helps us construct better sentences, it helps us to illustrate our thoughts, it gives greater clarity of meaning, it helps us add depth and strength to our message, it helps us to captivate, motivate and inspire… and being able to do all that builds our confidence. We’re always learning new words and phrases but, believe me, having a dictionary by your side accelerates that process of learning.
Another benefit of a greater vocabulary is that it helps us to listen and understand with greater skill, therefore enabling us to respond more accurately. This in turn helps us to build rapport with people much quicker. Anyone in a client facing role should certainly take heed.
BUT a word of warning – A great vocabulary should not be used to try and impress. Nobody likes a smart…erm… let’s say person. I once witnessed a discussion where an agitated individual decided to take the higher ground with another colleague by employing the word calumny in a sentence. Not only had she used it in the wrong context but she was probably one of the only people to have used it outside of a Dickensian law firm or Shakespearean rehearsal room in centuries! Adding random vocabulary to sound more authoritative, intelligent or interesting usually doesn’t work and will, at best confuse and at worst make you look like a bit of a smart… erm… let’s use person again.
But let us allow Dr Johnson to illustrate that point more effectively.