Written by Julia Hoyt, Community Coordinator at NextSpace Coworking Berkeley
Do you wish that you were a magnetic, charming person who commands attention? In a society that rewards extraversion, it’s easy to daydream about winning people over but harder to actually do!
However, one straightforward way to garner you some positive attention is to have and utilize a broad vocabulary. Command of language invites others to listen when you speak, and according to Dr. Clare Morgan, the University of Oxford’s Director to the Master of Studies in Creative Writing, workplace engagement with fictional literature offers businesses of all sizes an opportunity to advance critical skills, such as flexible thinking, data assessment and analysis, and empathy.
Sounds like all substance, no fluff, right? Well, here at NextSpace Berkeley, one of our most popular coworking events is part of our Thursday Lunch series. We call this special, low-key, poetry-packed networking event “Three Word Salad.” What one can expect at a Three Word Salad Lunch is an enticing selection of green, macaroni, and potato salads to chow down on while creating a collaborative, improvised poem. Hence the “word salad”!
If you haven’t heard of “word salad” before, here’s a Merriam-Webster definition:
Word Salad – a string of empty, incoherent, unintelligible, or nonsensical words or comments. This term was initially used by psychiatrists as a diagnosis of aphasia – difficulty in expressing coherent language. In other words, “word salad” has traditionally been a term used to diagnose and degrade the incoherent speaker.
So why “Three Word Salad” in the workplace? How does it have anything to do with lovely things like magnetism and poetry? A simple answer is that it’s playful!
The beautiful nature of a “Three Word Salad” poem is that it can be done verbally or with a pen and paper. It’s collaborative, improvised, and very in-the-moment. See what I did there? That’s how it works. One person contributes three words, big or small, and the next person continues with their own three-word contribution.
The poems we create celebrate the playful and immediate nature of language. So far, our members have gravitated to writing their contributions down on paper – probably because they’re busy munching on some tasty food!
It’s true that the term “word salad” is traditionally meant to be degrading. Even today, you might hear something like this:
Coworker One: “What was Jesse’s presentation at yesterday’s event about?”
Coworker Two: “I don’t know, it was all word salad to me.”
But when you look at the poems our members have created together, you get a picture of what each contributor is like. Members start asking each other, “Who wrote those lines? Whose handwriting is that? Wow, Steve used the word lugubrious, what does that mean?
If we go back to what Dr. Morgan says about fictional literature in the workplace, we can see that even nonsensical language play can be beneficial in the office.
Dr. Morgan said in a 2018 interview with [email protected], a non-profit focused on building workplace connections through stories and conversation, that “an organization which enables or facilitates empowerment through language is a really forward-looking organization. It’s one that thinks not only about its employees, but about the issues which affect its employees and their relationships. I think this is a wonderful way of enabling a group dynamic.”
Making meaningful connections with each other is especially important in coworking spaces. Coworking exists, in large part, because of the growing demand for a social working space among digital nomads, solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, freelancers, start-ups, and so many more. In fact, NextSpace Coworking is known for its so-called “NextSpace Effect” precisely because of the meaningful connections our members make.
Three Word Salad Thursday Lunch at NextSpace Coworking Berkeley provides members from various industries the opportunity to share their perspectives beyond the business world. It’s always exciting when the kitchen here suddenly buzzes with words typically only used for qualifying exams to English PhD programs. Think “heuristic” and “antidisestablishmentarianism” with a dash of “demon frogs,” and you’ve got a sample of the improvised poetry our very Berkeley members come up with!
Like anything else, vocabulary and eloquence comes with practice. If you feel like you could use a little more “demon frogs” and a little less “disruption” in your life (flexible vocabulary vs. buzzwords), consider challenging yourself to learning one new word a day or even refreshing one word a day. And you know what would be even better? Tell your coworkers about it – getting other people involved can reap some really lovely rewards. Like macaroni salad.