Fish in Water – Workmates in Language

In his commencement speech to a graduating class at Kenyon College, author David Foster Wallace began with the following joke.  “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

Wallace uses the story to point out that what surrounds you every day is often oblivious to you.  The analogy can be applied to the work environment, and specifically to our language.

Similar to fish in water, we move through our days in language that is usually taken for granted and unobserved.  Almost everything we do is accomplished with words.  The language we use in conversations with our work colleagues is typically not noticed.  How we behave, however, is bounded by the way we speak and listen to each other.  Paying attention to our language can help move us beyond our implicit assumptions into better clarity, more integrity, and improved performance.

The branch of linguistics that informs and inspires the 4Spires products flows from the work of John Austin, John Searle, and Fernando Flores.  These thinkers studied how language coordinates action between people and achieves results.  Dr. Flores brought new clarity to the idea that there is unrealized power in the use of specific words structured into a specific pattern of conversation.  He called it a “conversation for action”.

Helping work colleagues pay attention and harness language to improve results (i.e. to figuratively help people “see the water”) is at the heart of what differentiates our solutions from others in the market.  Our products focus, illuminate, and guide work conversations that can profoundly improve both team productivity and relationships.  Real breakthroughs happen if we open our eyes to what we say, and how we listen to each other.

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