A Positive Language Environment

By Steven J. Lawrence


When facilitating meetings, change efforts, and mediating conflicts, our approach at Support Your Mission is to help you create a “positive language environment.”

We borrowed this phrase from the book “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at Wok by Dr. Suzette S. Elgin, Ph.D.  We highly recommend this book to all organizations, communities, group projects and businesses, as it offers some very useful strategies for de-escalating potential conflicts and neutralizing the many forms of “verbal violence” that can undermine the mission and even the financial well-being of an organization.

Below, we briefly present Language Norms that facilitate the work of Support Your Mission.  We believe that positive communication is a serious determinant in the outcomes of any group process, so we have developed these norms as a guide for ourselves and our clients.  These norms are by no means exhaustive nor are they intended to be prescriptive.  But, they  have been very helpful in our work in establishing the right balance for positive communication.  Most of the Language Norms were developed and adapted from the various strands of research on organizational learning, education reform and linguistics.

In the book we mentioned above, Elgin examines the harmful impact covert aggression can have on an organization’s goals.  She identifies a number of covert verbal attack patterns and offers ways for people to turn potential attacks into productive encounters without compromising the honor of either party.  She also identifies what she calls the “linguistic toxins” that can undermine an organization’s goals if they are allowed to continue over a long period of time.

We believe it can be useful to identify language and behavior patterns that can undermine productivity and trust, so we have added a brief list of some of the patterns at the end of each Language Norm .  From this point, we will refer to these patterns as “unproductive norms.”

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