How Cognitive Dissonance Can Disrupt Your English Speaking Comfort & What to Do About it
Tune in to this video podcast and learn strategies to boost your English speaking comfort from organisational psychologist Caroline Rosenberg.
I‘m delighted to welcome, Caroline Rosenberg who is an organisational psychologist to our very first video podcast episode! I want to take a little moment to introduce her! Caroline is intrigued by human behaviour in organisational environments. She’s worked extensively in project management and research and is also a PhD candidate at Deakin University. Caroline is passionate about the impact of leadership and healthy workplaces so get ready because our conversation goes deep into strategies for building your personal mindset and self-worth. The way you view yourself can directly impact your ability to interact effectively as a communicator, leader and employee so I think this conversation will really speak to you! I know for certain I learnt a lot from our conversation. So without further ado, let’s launch right in!
Ciao for now,
If you have something optimistic to share on this topic or feel in the mood to pop some words of encouragement out to anyone who happens upon this page like yourself, I encourage you to add something in the comments below. It’s the first time I’ve opened comments because I think our little space on the internet is starting to feel more like a community, so it would delight me to see the conversation continuing below.
We invited psychologist Caroline Rosenberg to write a guest blog around English Speaking Comfort because she really has something to say!
Cognitive Dissonance, My Accent & Finding Speaking Comfort
Guest Blog by Caroline Rosenberg
A light bulb moment when I was about six, living in China in the late 80s, it’s not having a great idea kind of light bulb moment, but the kind where you remember each moment of the scenes vividly:
I was sitting on the back of my uncle’s bicycle, holding onto his jacket for dear life while he was zooming around traffic… The wind was gushing, my hair was going mad, that was the days no helmet, no harness was needed for any age.
My uncle turned his face back a little and shouted:
“Do you speak Mandarin at school?”
I remember thinking to myself “Duh… What else do I speak?!” So, I casually said, “Of course.”
Then he said, “Let me hear it!”
I was utterly confused and wasn’t sure if he was joking or serious, so I said, “I am speaking Mandarin!”
He stopped the bike, rather slowly, leaned to the side, turned around, and said “You’re speaking a dialect, not Mandarin! Don’t they teach you to speak properly at school?”
I remember feeling embarrassed, inadequate and stupid.
Not sure if that’s the exact reason, but since then, I had learned the differences between my dialect and Mandarin, the different accents, the different vocabulary, the slight but significant differences in some meanings of words.
In my young mind, Mandarin was proper, educated and official. It instils competence, projects intellects, and most of all, it makes you understood by a billion people. The dialect, on the other hand, was crude, uncultured, somewhat rebellious. It showed the nonchalant attitude, represented the small city as it was, and it leaked the essence of the frog in the well.
The thoughts and emotions I had about dialects and accents stayed with me and travelled with me all the way to Australia, transposed from Mandarin to English, but they led to the same behaviour: investing everything to minimise my accent, and that included reducing how much I speak.
In psychology, thoughts, emotions and behaviours are intimately linked. Not only different thoughts lead to different feelings and behaviours, but also how we process different thoughts leads to different emotions and behaviours.
Most of us would be familiar with the uncomfortable feeling of wanting another bite of that chocolate bar sitting on the desk, taunting and daring. It is the emotional struggle between two conflicting thoughts:
“Chocolate tastes good!”
“Chocolate is terrible!
Now, we finally got onto our topic: cognitive dissonance.
What is Cognitive Dissonance?
“I can eat the chocolate bar because I run 5km this morning.”
“I can eat chocolate because I haven’t had any for a week.”
Most of the times, rationalisation involves accurate and true statements, that allow us to uphold both beliefs and use an external condition to explain why the conflicting thoughts don’t apply in my (this particular) situation. This then helps to relieve ourselves from the uncomfortable feelings of guilty, shame, irritation, or a concoction of unnameable feelings.
But, as long as I can effectively rationalise, there is no behaviour change in the equation.
How is this relevant to my accent?
For nearly 30 years after that light bulb moment, I held two conflicting beliefs.
Accents are bad. I am good.
How did I manage it? Mostly trying to speak without it, but it’s more challenging to do that in English than Mandarin.
So, I rationalised.
“Not many people can speak more than one language.”
“I can communicate fine, and it’s not getting in the way of my work or life.”
These are true statements. But somehow, for many years, they didn’t help me from feeling inferior when I gave a presentation or making public statements with my “accent plagued” English. So, I avoided speaking publicly and made career choices based on it.
What did I miss?
Why didn’t rationalisation work for me? And more importantly, how did I finally get over it?
It’s not another light bulb moment, but many sharp observations over time.
Each time I hear a public figure speaks in a non-Aussie, non-US, non-NZ accent, I feel a little bit better about myself. I can’t recall all the events, but Australian Open helped, hearing from the tennis giants in their own styles of English; the last UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon helped, possibly more than others, because he’s Asian; and then Jack Ma, a Chinese businessman never let his English gets in the way of projecting confidence or business success!
It’s surprising that in a multicultural country like Australia, how few in the public eye actually speak with a noticeable accent. Maybe I didn’ t get out enough!
But bit by bit, the evidence piled up, that accents aren’t bad! That’s my own false belief.
How to reconcile cognitive dissonance
To review and update unhelpful and false thoughts and beliefs is a more adaptive way of managing cognitive dissonance, and that is also the foundation of cognitive behaviour therapy.
There is more…
Even after I had consciously accepted the fact that accents aren’t bad, for a long time, that feeling of embarrassment, inadequacy lingered within me when I speak.
Simply knowing something isn’t always enough to make a difference in our emotional reaction.
Then, what else is needed to make a difference?
Cognitive dissonance can also come from inconsistent thoughts and behaviours.
Although I truly believed accent is innocent as a lamb, I still behaved as though it’s a shameful thing. I cringed hearing myself speak, so I spoke less; I playback in my mind all the pronunciation mistakes I’ve made. That’s why the negative emotions persisted, so, the other piece of the puzzle lies within our behaviours.
The relationship of the trio goes beyond thoughts to emotions, emotions to behaviours; behaviours also have an impact on our thoughts and emotions, which completes the loop.
Behaviour change is hard work, it takes practice and patience. In some ways, it’s a combination of art and science. Not everything works for everyone, but everyone has something that works.
For me, that something started from advocating for someone else. I found that I don’t feel as self-conscious when I advocate for others, because it’s not about me. And the emotion attached to the advocating behaviour is of compassion, hope and striving for better. As a result, I spoke a little louder, a little warmer, and a little easier overall. Bit by bit, the evidence built up, I realised that I can speak well when I wasn’t so worried about minimising my accent. That, in turn, triggered a positive cycle of reinforcement.
You might have found something that worked for you, pass it on, it might spark someone else’s behaviour change journey!
An essential element in a sustained behaviour change process is a positive support network. Positive feedback in a safe environment gives people confidence and reassurance that we often crave living in this messy world.
If you are reading this, you are already connected to this network, so be brave, share it!
Cognitive Dissonance and How to Build Your Mindset
Video Podcast with Caroline Rosenberg, Organisational Psychologist
This Interview will be published at 8pm AEST on the 9th of August, so if you get to this page earlier than then, don’t forget to turn on the YouTube Premiere reminder button.
Here’s what we talked about:
2:50 – How can we build others up?
3:46 – Showing your authentic self
4:44 – Collective loss (especially during the current pandemic)
5:00 – What you need to know about the Kubler Ross grief cycle and how it impacts your communication
5:32 – Denial
5:43 – Anger
5:57 – Bargaining
6:20 – Depression
6:28 – Acceptance
7:59 – What is cognitive dissonance and why do you need to know about it
8:42 – Behaviour and our mindset
13:59 – Why work health is important now more than ever
14:32 – Using change support to build your team
16:27 – Imposter syndrome
19: 28 – Imposter syndrome and second language identity
20: 00 – You don’t have to be everything
23:16 – Caroline’s 5 – Tips to achieve a successful approach with your mindset.
Further Reading 📚
If English is your second language, you are in the global majority. So why are people asking you about your strong accent? Why exactly? Especially since, there is NO such thing as a strong accent.
Read one of our blogs on the impact of accents in the workplace.
This year-long project was coordinated by the Universiteit Gent, Belgium and funded by the European Union with the goal of generating solutions “to reduce … social bias” of accent.
Monica Torres looks into believability & accent further in this article. A great read on negative and positive bias and accent.
Did you know that infants already prefer a native accent to a non-native accent, as early as 5 months old? Accent bias starts surprisingly young. Richard Grey opens the discussion about how our brains have to work harder when we listen to an accent different than ours.
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