On Being Articulate


  1. 1.
    (of a person or a person’s words) having or showing the ability to speak fluently and coherently.

A topic I have been giving thought to lately is the skill of being articulate.

This is one of the most individualized abilities among humans and has impact far beyond what is often considered. Someones ability to use language effectively is not easily measurable, and that makes it impossible to compare with any precision. The ability to articulate feelings can be the difference between a relationship working out or not. It can be the difference between an altercation and a peaceful resolution. It can be the difference between getting a job or not. It impacts temperament. It can be the difference between a successful life and one of struggle. In extreme situations it can be the difference between life and death.

As a writer the words I choose to use, the combinations of them, and my ability to have those words invoke their intended purpose is paramount.

An example of people who often suffer from the inability to communicate their thoughts and feelings are people on the autism spectrum. It is really easy to understand the tendency for outbursts when someone cannot make themselves understood. Imagine just wanting to ask for comfort or to express affection towards someone and not being able to. To reach for words to say where there are none. Constantly being misunderstood and the impact that has on how one is perceived and how they understand themselves.

Opportunities lie on the other side of articulation. It can affect everything from who best pitches themselves for a promotion, to the sentence someone receives for an offense they have committed. If two people are charged with the exact same crime, and are both equally remorseful for their actions and equally likely to respond well to a lenient sentence, but one of them is able to express their remorse and a desire to take responsibility for their actions, then that person is far more likely to receive a more compassionate sentence.

Being able to express yourself accurately and effectively manifests options where there otherwise would be none. How many great ideas went unfunded because the creator could not express them well enough to the gatekeepers? How many discoveries were lost because the inspiration could not be shared with peers? When someone is articulate they can be more genuine. They can be inspiring and motivating. They can exude confidence and authenticity. They are better at finding common ground with others.

Is our ability to be articulate able to be improved?  Every strategy that improves the ability for someone to communicate will see huge benefits. It is actually one of the most malleable traits that we possess, but no different than attempting to improve any skill it takes work. These efforts will have different results depending on certain things, some of which we can control, others we cannot. As far as the things we can control the most important is to read and listen. Read books beyond your comprehension level and do it with a phone or dictionary next to you. When you read words you do not understand look them up. Look at the examples provided in the dictionary as alternate ways the word may be used and compare that to the way it was used in your reading.

Kindles are amazing because any time you come across a new word you can simply tap it and there are dictionary and thesaurus capabilities built in. If you are listening to a powerful speaker and the person uses words you do not understand write them down and apply the same strategy afterwards. If this happens in conversation ask the person to define or explain the word they used. If they are wise and knowledgeable they will welcome the interaction, otherwise you will have called someone out for using words they were not articulate enough to use appropriately, and hopefully they will be more authentic in the future.

I remember hearing Stan Lee of Marvel comics fame talking about the decision to use college level vocabulary in their comics. It has been observed that children who read comic books like this see benefits in the form of conversational ability and vocabulary.

With self improvement being so popular I was surprised to find such a void of conversation around this topic. Forming habits and self-confidence are hot topics. Nutrition and exercise are commonly explored. Mindfulness and productivity have a pretty solid position in the public awareness, but not too much in regards to being articulate. Even if you are not a fan of the subject matter I would highly recommend listening to Sam Harris. Even Neil Degrasse Tyson has observed the artistry behind Harris’s conversational skill. He has a profound vocabulary and uses it with surgical precision. It is difficult to focus on how great speakers speak without focusing on the subject matter. A powerful tool to improve your articulation is to listen to HOW great speakers speak instead of what they are saying. I challenge you to read books intentionally beyond your current comprehension level. Listen to articulate speakers. Look for patterns and things that stand out. The pace and rhythm that they speak with. Look for techniques that seem to add value and texture to what they are saying by how they are saying it. Humans have a talent for mimicry. See how increasing your exposure and awareness for articulation improves your ability to communicate your thoughts and feelings.

As always any feedback and conversation is always welcome.

Here’s to your empowerment

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