Language: "The First Weapon Drawn in a Conflict"
"Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict." (From the movie, Arrival)
Language carries weight and meaning, no matter who we are or what we do.
Be it in personal relationships, professional settings or within the political realm, language signals whether we come in peace, whether we've come to fight or whether we are simply indifferent.
Language isn't just what we say but also how we say it.
"I'd like to go through this document with you" can be interpreted to mean "I like what you've done", "I'm not happy with what you've done" or "I don't understand what you've done". The difference is dependent on how you say it.
Which is why the written word isn't always the best way to communicate with someone about a personal or important topic. Because the words we use are not the totality of the message. The overall context is critical - body language, tone, as well as words.
Sometimes, of course, the written word is the only way for us to communicate (e.g. a company wide memo). In these cases, we need to exercise due care over what we write. Not to the point where the communication is diluted - I hate "corporatespeak" and, frankly, a little personality is always - always - a good thing. But we need to be thoughtful in such instances (more than we need to be careful, if you see what I mean).
But when we have more options than simply the written word, we must take the opportunity to communicate more directly.
We must sit in front of someone to have that conversation. To not just speak, but to listen and be heard. To use the totality of our language. Especially if it's a difficult conversation.
Sure, it can be discomforting. But leadership is to sit in front of someone and have the discussion, to explain one's point of view, to allow for the debate (if needed). Not to strive for consensus necessarily. Not to convert the other point of view. But to try and gain alignment.
If I have to tell you that your performance is not where it should be and that we need to fix things, I need you to look into my eyes and see that I am serious but that I am also sympathetic to the situation. I need to be able to look into your eyes and absorb your complete language to ensure that you understand what I am saying, that you accept what I am saying. If I do it right, then we are building trust, a relationship, a team. If I don't, then we are in trouble.
Which is why the phrase from the movie struck me as so insightful:
It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.
Our alliances and our hostilities begin with our language. What we say and how we say it.
So, it's important that we use that power thoughtfully.