LOS Reflections – We Are All Human

It strikes me as a gaping deficit of the modern education system that we often spend more time learning to communicate in a foreign language than we do learning to communicate truly and deeply in our own language.

This might sound surprising coming from someone who teaches 3 languages, speaks half a dozen and has spent time learning a few more. But if there is one thing that all this exposure to languages has taught me, it’s that “We are all human.” That has been a mantra of mine for a while; Mark Goulston’s book Just Listen has given me a more fuller understanding of what that means.

The biggest take-away for me is Goulston’s explanation of the evolution of the human brain which he explains is divided into three parts: the reptile layer, the mammal layer and the primate layer.

  • The lower reptilian brain is the “fight-or-flight” part of your brain. This region of your brain is all about acting and reacting, without a lot of thinking going on. It can also leave you frozen in a perceived crisis—the “deer-in-the-headlights” response. 
  • The middle mammal brain is the seat of your emotions. (Call it your inner drama queen.) It’s where powerful feelings—love, joy, sadness, anger, grief, jealousy, pleasure—arise.
  • The upper primate brain is like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. It’s the part that weighs a situation logically and rationally and generates a conscious plan of action. This brain collects data from the reptile and mammal brains, sifts it, analyzes it, and makes practical, smart, and ethical decisions. (p. 15)

Goulston goes on to discuss how to move from one part of the brain to the other, whether it is in yourself or in others. He analyzes various situations, shows which parts of the brain get triggered or activated and offers strategies for how to address that part of the brain, freeing you to move up to a higher level.

What struck me about Goulston’s communications techniques is how close they are to Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a body of work started by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg which now encompasses hundreds of trainers and hundreds of thousands of practitioners worldwide. Several of Goulston’s examples, I have come across in NVC materials almost verbatim. As far as I know, Goulston is not trained or exposed to NVC which leads me to the conclusion that these techniques point to a deeper, more universal human grammar.

I use the word grammar purposefully because I think there are an underlying set of rules which, if we, human beings, master them, will greatly enhance our communications skills. And in many ways, I think we need to approach these communications techniques the same way we approach learning a new language. In NVC, this is largely acknowledged, with a system of courses, NVC practice groups and encouragement to practice NVC with others who also speak NVC to reinforce your own skills. Goulston points to something similar by providing exercises to practice and reinforce these skills at the end of each chapter. In my own workbook, “Participate in Dreaded Conversations with Ease”, which draws on a variety of communications techniques, I also include worksheets and exercises to enhance the adoption of new skills.

In some ways, I wonder though, if it might be easier to learn these deeply human communication techniques when learning a foreign language. By engaging with this new grammar in a different language, in a sense we are freeing ourselves from the mental constraints we have already put on our own language and culture. For example, “In my culture, it is strange to talk about feelings, especially in a professional context” or  “How I could ever ask someone to let me have a break from a conversation so that I have some time to process my reaction.” But perhaps, if we learn them as part of a foreign language and assume that these techniques are acceptable in the new culture, maybe we will have more success with them. And once we have favorable outcomes with them in a foreign language, we can start translating the concepts back into our own language. I certainly think it is something worth trying with your LOS consultant.

Marianne Perez de Fransius, LOS Consultant and Bébé Voyage Co-founder 

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