I had an interesting exchange with my two sons yesterday (separately). I am trying to motivate my elder son to speak more articulately and with a greater awareness of proper grammar. He retorted that I do not know how to communicate and that as long as information is conveyed effectively, it does not matter how it is conveyed. I tried to explain that words are very much the doors to perception and that the words we use (or even think) very much influence not only how we are perceived, but how we actually perceive. He scoffed.
Fast forward a couple of hours. My younger son and I were talking in the car and he made a statement. I politely corrected his grammar. He did not get defensive, but he told me that he really thought that the past participle was proper in the sentence that he used and he gave me reasons for his belief. Somewhat terrified that I might be out-word-smithed, I had to dig back to my 10th grade English and explain why I felt the present participle was a better choice. We discussed it for a while and he then agreed with me, but it was a remarkable discussion from the moment he started using terms like “past participle.” There is hope for the next generation, or at least my bloodline.
Although I do believe that the use of a robust vocabulary and proper grammar is important in life, and especially in business, it may be that both of my sons have valid perspectives. On the whole, I see future generations becoming more and more divided not only in communication styles, but in lifestyle and citizenship.
My elder son could very possibly find success in an industry that does not require any language skills above texting, and perhaps the target market for that industry will be limited to people with similar communication styles. At the same time, if the need to integrate himself and his products or services into other “communities” (more word-focused communities like the one my younger son and I represent) should arise, he will face some difficulty. Accordingly, I see his attitude — that his way is the only way — as being potentially limiting.
Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that my general unwillingness to text and my tendency to use an excess of verbiage can also be limiting. Unlike in Dickens’ day, we are generally not paid by the word when we speak in business settings. Accordingly, just as my elder son needs to learn to balance the brevity of text-speak with a greater selection of words, so too do I need to learn to communicate with a generation that is largely focused on immediate gratification and minimalist communication. Indeed, as that generation increasingly enters the workforce, it may become essential for people like me, whether managers, executives or otherwise, to learn how to effectively get messages across to a younger generation that does not use words the way my older, and perhaps more literate, generation does.
What do you think? Are you part of the younger, texting generation that gets its information digitally and does not necessarily know how to parse a sentence, or are you part of an older generation that still proofreads everything that you write, even if you have a spell check program? How do you think words and grammar influence our personal success and how do you think your views might have to change as current teens and 20-somethings enter the work force?