17 March 2023
As a Senior Executive or CEO, you understand the significance of having strong intellectual abilities; however, have you ever considered the impact of your Verbal Quotient (VQ)?
Your VQ is defined by your ability to articulately use and string together words, phrases and other rhetorical devices to speak both lucidly and without effort. You’ve likely experienced this when in a state of ‘flow’ where you are speaking from experience – the words seemed to flow effortlessly whilst your listeners were swept along with you.
In comparison, Verbal Blind Spots are words or phrases which you have come across multiple times but are unable to either use or define accurately. It doesn’t mean you don’t use those words, instead you often misuse them or can’t explain what they mean to someone else.
These blind spots can hinder your ability to comprehend new information, disrupting both your learning and your wider communication skills. Improving your VQ is therefore vital for overcoming these challenges.
In one of my books I wrote:
“You should always avoid engaging in duportism when speaking. Should you duport at any time during your speech, you will make a fool of yourself. However, as this is quite obvious I shall make no further mention of the act.”
Reading that above statement probably made you feel some kind of emotion, but didn’t truly make sense.
You might have had an inkling of what I was saying. You may have furrowed your brow in annoyance, or perhaps your mind began to wander elsewhere mid-sentence. You might have even re-read those lines a few times trying to decipher it. But if you still don’t understand what I was advising, don’t worry; both ‘duport’ and ‘duportism’ are not real words, they were nonsensical terms and mock verbal blind spots which I created to prove a point – that much as you’d struggle to paint by numbers without the numbers, you’d struggle to make sense of a sentence if you didn’t truly understand they key words.
You may think you rarely lack knowledge of key words, especially if you’re a native speaker of the language you’re using. But how often do you find yourself having to re-read a sentence despite ‘knowing’ all the words? According to my clients, it’s extremely common.
When we have to re-read a sentence, it usually happens because of one of two things: it could be that the meaning behind the sentence you read caused your mind to recollect a story, imagine something new or put the pieces together on a problem you’ve been working on.
In these moments, those verbal blind spots hinder your subconscious from quickly internalizing new information, interrupting that enjoyable state of flow and learning.
If reading was like your subconscious trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle by putting the words in the right order to make a bigger picture, then verbal blind spots are like finding there’s a decorated piece missing.
At first you may think it’s curious that you know a word but can’t define it, but then again how often are you asked to define the words you use?
People can suffer from verbal blind spots and a low VQ for a multitude of reasons.
If you’ve failed to create a personal definition of terminology during your adult life, you’ll have filled in the missing words with gut feelings – which are usually incorrect when examined a little deeper.
On the other hand, if an offending word causes you to feel a strong emotion it could potentially undermine your desire to understand it. We see this when devout Marxists read or hear the word Capitalism and fly into seeing hatred, because their personal definition of the word is one clouded with emotion which essentially equals ‘exploitation’, rather than a well-defined economic model.
Many often recognise this problem when looking at buzzwords in their workplace, but are still embarrassed to ask for a definition it. Why this is the case I’m unsure. Maybe it’s the fear of being seen as inadequate, but without asking you’ll never learn what the phrase means. If this is the cause, I’d strongly recommend you seek clarification on any words you’re unsure about, because it’s often better to know what to do, than to be told off for doing the wrong thing.
My clients have shown me that how individuals of all ages who are often unable to translate verbal blind spots into their own words are effectively stunted in their potential. Unable to speak for themselves, someone else usually speaks for them and that person usually doesn’t have their charge’s best interests in mind. This handing over of the reigns to an authority figure also has the effect of making the non-speaker feel as if they are in some way an intellectual failure, because they falsely believe they misunderstand entire ideas – when in fact they merely fail to understand a handful of words crucial to understanding the bigger picture.
The reality is they are not an intellectual failure at all, because being unable to define a word does not define their potential or worth to the world!
The solution to eliminating verbal blind spots and increasing your VQ is simple: identify the word or phrase your mind is struggling with and give it a definition.
For example, if an instruction had been issued by your employer outlining their new corporate strategy which demanded you “practice synergy with everything you did” it’d be simple to follow – if you knew the true definition of ‘synergy’. If you misinterpreted ‘practice synergy‘ to ‘working independently’, you’d quickly get into trouble given that ‘synergy’ essentially means ‘to work as a team‘.
Therefore, to improve your VQ you should first identify whatever word you cannot define in a sentence and then look up the dictionary definition. You can then create your own definition in terms you’re familiar with if the dictionary still proves to be too obtuse. Following that, try to paint a visual picture or micro-story of the concept as in the example below:
By following this simple structure, you give yourself three ways to better understand your language.
The micro-story will often usually appeal to you on a more emotional and subconscious level, making it even more memorable.
You can strengthen your word defining skills by abiding by these simple rules.
No. I’ve not developed a test for Verbal Quotient mainly because many of the similar tests around linguistic fluency place a heavy reliance upon knowing obscure words, rather than testing your knowledge of common words and jargon. It’d also be impossible to check your personal definition, because they are personal to you.
Your IQ also doesn’t mean much in reality. IQ tests are often skewed in favour of those talented at mathematics and logic puzzles at the expense of those talented in other areas such as the arts. You could have an incredibly talented painter who scores terribly on an IQ test, but that doesn’t really mean much towards their potential.
I also don’t feel it’s truly possible to create an all-encompassing VQ test. You would have to contend with the issue of those who command larger vocabularies compared to those occasional reading-illiterate rustics who can hold us spellbound by their mastery over the use of the common word. One may know a wealth of words, but the other can use few far more effectively – in that case who has the larger VQ?
One of the best ways of testing your VQ is simply to try and define all the buzzwords and jargon you use in your career. If you can’t put give them a personal definition and micro-story then that’s a weakness. If you can easily define each term, then well done, you’ve a strong grasp of your common terminology and the words you frequently use!
Despite the lack of an official test, if you practice identifying and defining your verbal blind spots regularly, it will not only help improve your VQ, improve your ability to respond quickly but also improve your confidence when speaking, reading and writing more widely allowing you to speak, read and write for yourself.
If you’re still finding work to be challenging due to buzzwords or simply struggling to find the right word, I’d be happy to help. Contact me today to schedule a bespoke session.