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  • Sharon Borland

#34 The Value of Description

Descriptive language has its place. What are you describing and why?

How often have you walked away from a conversation or meeting dissatisfied with the outcome? There can be a whole range of reasons for this - some of which may be outside your control. But if you consider that what you say has the power to influence others, then everything you say, or don’t say, can play a part in the outcomes we get.

One way to consider the types of speaking and language we use is to divide it into descriptive language or committed language. Descriptive language might contain stories, explanations, reports, assessments and complaints. Then there are the opinions, justifications, the reasons why, critiques and judgements. Descriptive language, whether verbal or written, could be well thought out, concise and factual or it could be ‘heat of the moment’, emotionally led, and repetitive. None of this is good or bad, it all has its place, but if we don’t consider the purpose, it’s unlikely to achieve what we want it to. So, let’s consider a couple of examples of when and why descriptive language might be used.

Connection - most conversations benefit from some sort of connection between the individuals involved even if the purpose might seem purely functional. Going beyond what’s essential to making a deeper connection can turn a food order into an opportunity to encourage a waiter in their role, put a smile on the face of a bus driver and much more. Beyond this, descriptive language can be used to create understanding or empathy.

Information sharing using descriptive language can be used to spread knowledge and experience by looking back at what’s already happened. It has its place in many circumstances including providing context for future plans, solving problems, enabling lessons to be learned etc.

However, a lot of time can be spent describing the past at the expense of looking forward. When we’re trying to generate something in the future, once it’s clear that we have sufficient understanding about the past, it could be time to move on. You might also notice that descriptive language sometimes involve blame; using descriptive language in this way is unlikely to be beneficial or generative. Next time we’ll look at generating and creating using committed language.


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