When I finish my computer science course in university, after some time working in big companies, I realized that I was somehow prepared for the technical challenges, but I didn’t know how to work socially in the companies. One thing is to know how doing the technical work, another is about working with people. And the issues, are always about people, how to influence, persuade, office games, power control games, silence wars, etc.. It’s a very different role than the technical one, but it is the one that makes you grow in the company. Even if you are a tech lover, you must get soft skills.
I am not trying to give a pessimistic vision of the work, actually I am working in a quite good work environment, but this is how these things are, because people like to grow in the company, they like to feel safe, but for that, they start a “fight” with their colleagues, they try to know their intentions and act accordingly considering their own intentions (sometimes it’s not a conscious intention, it is just us: humans!). You can observe these moves around you if you try.
In this post I just want to give you a small piece of soft skills, improving your way of managing your verbal and written argumentation, in a way that will improve the quality of your arguments, in a constructive way, so the work and personal environment around you will be better. And when people feel good around you, it’s a good thing for you in every way.
There are a lot of argumentation tools (really a lot), but today I only want to write about one of my favorites: The Tense.
When you are in a conversation, or just hearing someone on a TV show or movie, the speech is always in one of 3 tenses:
Obvious! But it tells you a lot, even without knowing what is being said! (It is a kind of nonverbal language in the verbal language)
Whey are they important?
A conversation in the past tense is always about blaming, forensic analysis, reporting things, telling about something that’s happened. You can observe this in movies or TV shows about criminals, police, investigation, or in divorce talks. Most of the argumentation, it’s about trying to find the guilty, blaming something, trying to conclude that something or someone did something, right or wrong, analyzing what has been done or happened, is was good or not, it was finished or not.
When 2 people are arguing badly, you hear a lot about the past! If you are/were in a relationship you probably (very high) had conversations in this tense! “You did that! Not it was you! I was just”… And go on and on and on 😉
This kind of tense it is not constructive, avoid it. (Of course, this is not a rule, sometimes you have to talk in this tense, for instance, every day in my daily scrum meeting I have to talk about what I have done in the previous day, but not in an discussion about something to be cleared, where you want to be viewed as constructive)
NOTE: In the past tense you can win an argument, but: You don’t use argumentation to win but to persuade. You can win an argument, but you could lose your relationship, friend, reputation, job, etc. Try to persuade, lead someone to do what you want, and not doing it by force. You can win by force, but in the end you will lose. Be wise.
A conversation in the present tense doesn’t go anywhere, it is when you are talking about what is right or wrong, giving opinions or stating a fact. It tends to finish conversations, because you are not going to anywhere in the conversation, it is not open to discussion, it is just about facts. It is very used as a politician’s tool, to say the obvious but not giving any solution. Observe the people that talks in the present tense, if you analysis the content of their discourse, they will not present a solution to things, just stating facts and issues (usually coming from the past), however, during the discourse it gives the illusion to the audience they are talking about solutions (which is in the future tense).
You want to use this tense to stating facts about what are you doing, but try to add a future tense (see below) to improve the quality of your speech. Something like, I am doing this and will improve the quality of the final product, or build a good relationship with the customer, etc.
NOTE: However, it can be a great tool when used to “create” an extremely bad situation and propose some relief out of that situation to the audience by just using a transition from present to the future tense – it is used as a persuasive tool. Ex:“The water is very polluted, very bad for our children and our health, but there is a solution, with this water purifier machine, your body will be healthy from now on…” See: Present/Past (bad)->Future (good)! It works great for salesmen! You are welcome for the tip 😉
You should always try to argue in this tense. When you talk in the future, you bring options, choices, hope. You bring people into conversation, you make people think. You are showing that you are interested in the progress of your company, you are trying to value their future, you are really hearing about ideas because you ask things about it, you promote choices and hope, ignoring possible “blames” of the past, because there is nothing to do about it. You are the solution person, not the troubled person. You talk about growing, not guilty. You talk about future, not past.
You can observe this type of discourse in the people who are winners. “I am doing my best and I will keep working to improve myself”, “Yes, we can”, “I will work everyday to be the best…”, “Things will change, we will make the change together” – There is always a sense of future and hope in the messages. You can try to improve your discourse during the day be changing a little bit at a time.
NOTE: Be careful, however, with too much future, because the future aren’t facts, just choices, hope and desire, be careful if someone is always talking in the future but without any real solutions. In this case, ask how.
You can construct an argument considering transitions between the past, present and tenses, but always try to start from the past to the future, like: “We were in a bad situation without knowing what to do, now we are fighting it and with effort and your help, we can do this and that…what ideas can you propose?”. Probably you heard similar discourses with this pattern in the past and they seemed great!
This is not a formula and not by any means a complete course in the subject, there are other considerations in the points above, but I want to show how simple is to improve the quality of an environment only considering the tense in a conversation.
TIP: Don’t forget, you can use this knowledge as an argumentation tool to improve your soft skills, but you could and should use it too, to understand how and why someone is talking about something.