The intent of this informal paper is to elaborate a model of the flow of mental activities that arise when engaging in speech.
This is not an intention to prescribe the ideal for how speech should occur, but merely to record my observations of what commonly occurs.
This is not an absolutely strict sequencing of mental activities, but a general flow that may skip some stages at times, repeat some stages, stop short of speech, skip around a bit, or leap to action without speech.
And this model does not cover thought processes in general, just the stage at which speech is contemplated, although there can be a lot of overlap.
Sequence of mental activities
The general sequence of mental activities for speaking or expression is:
- Where does it start?
- Sensory perception
- Response to speech from others
- Unconscious and subconscious drives
- Visceral reaction
- Commitment to belief
- Validate and build confidence in belief
- Validate and build credibility in belief
- Intent to speak
- Overcoming fear
- Overcoming anger
- Forming the expression
- Choosing the words
- Timing the commencement of speech
- Forming the words
- Speaking the words
- Observing reaction
- Reacting to the reaction
- Indirect action
- Direct action
- Contemplation of any speech from the target, including visual cues and body language
- Rinse and repeat
Speaking and listening
The list of mental activities for speech listed above focused mostly on speaking, but did not fully take into account that speech is usually a joint activity, alternating between one party speaking and another party listening.
In addition to the mental activities for speaking, listening involves a rough sequence of mental activities:
- Waiting for audible or visual cues that speaking is about to commences.
- Listening to the audible speech.
- Watching for visual cues and body language.
- Sensing tone.
- Responding with active visual and even audible cues, such as posture, arm gestures, sighing , snickering, giggling, laughing, eye-rolling, head-shaking, huffing and puffing, etc.
- Parsing the speech for words.
- Recognizing the concepts and meanings implied by the parsed words.
- Forming a mental model of the implied expression being communicated.
- Interpreting the expressed or implied meaning.
- Listening and reacting to one’s own reactions to the interpreted expression.
- Deciding whether, when, and how to respond.
- Responding with relatively passive visual cues as listening progresses.
- Deciding whether to interrupt with an intervention.
- Responding directly to the perceived speech.
- Contemplating a deeper response that is triggered by the perceived speech but may not be directly related.
Writing and non-speech expression
This focus of this paper is on verbal speech, but expression can include the written word as well as other nonverbal forms of expression, such as art or symbolic actions. Quite a few of the mental activities of speech are the same or similar or analogous in any form of expression, but the similarities and differences will not be explored in this particular paper.
Role of the subconscious
Clearly those are far too many mental activities to be explicitly managed by our conscious minds. Some of them are commonly or sometimes conscious, deliberate steps, but as a general proposition many, most, or sometimes all of them are managed by our subconscious minds.
In fact, for individuals characterized as thinking on their feet, there is very little if any conscious mental activity involved. But even for individuals who do commonly think well on their feet, they just as commonly consciously engage in at least some of those mental steps.
Speech is just one form of expression. Expression can encompass:
- Spoken speech
- Written language
- Symbolic activities
In the context of this paper, expression refers to a fully expressed collection of thoughts. Each thought may translate into its own speech action. Collectively they comprise an integrated expression of some intended meaning.
Technically, expression has two senses, each fragment of the full expression — a sequence of expressions — and the full expression as a whole.
Where does it start?
Where does an act of speech or an expression really start? It can vary. The impetus for an act of speech can be:
- Sensory perception.
- Response to listening to another speaker.
- Thought that pops into the speaker’s head, likely from the subconscious in response to an event or thought that wasn’t responded to some time ago.
- Coping with a visceral response to some event.
- To express feelings.
- As a result of some extended thought process that one feels should be expressed or communicated.
One may see, hear, or otherwise sense something and feel the need to communicate that to others, maybe to communicate information about the perception, or feelings that were triggered by the perception.
Response to speech from others
After listening to the speech of others, one may feel the need to respond.
Unconscious and subconscious drives
A variety of human drives can be discerned by the conscious mind and result in a desire to communicate about them. Distinct from a visceral reaction, the conscious mind recognizes the nature of the specific drive at work.
The impetus for speech may not be so much the content of some observation or other sensory perception, but a visceral or emotional reaction to that perception. What makes the reaction visceral is that the mind leaps to a response without the conscious step of recognizing the specific drive and skipping the need to consciously deciding how to respond.
Beyond raw drives and visceral reactions, one may have feelings that one feels the need to express.
One can be thinking through some problem or interest and arrive at a stage where it feels natural, desirable, or necessary to communicate about that thought to others. A thought could be a raw idea, the seed for an idea, but needing refinement to be be considered worthy of being labeled as an idea.
More than simply a raw, vague thought, an idea is a refinement of the thought that seems more tangible or tractable. Not as full and complete as a concept, an idea at least is a solid pointer in the direction of a concept.
More than simply an unadorned idea, a concept has been refined and embellished to represent an intellectual object that can be discussed in greater detail.
More than simply the literal idea or concept, the speaker associates deeper and broader meaning with the concept, such as:
- Emotional attachment
- Intellectual attachment
- Scientific significance
- Social attachment or significance
- Association with the narrative of one’s life
Each fragment of the full expression may have its own meaning, as well as an integrated meaning for the whole expression.
Commitment to belief
Separate from the actual thought or concept, the speaker must decide and make a commitment to whether or how intensely they believe the essence of the thought or concept.
The intensity of one’s beliefs does not always directly affect their words, but it can affect their tone, delivery, emphasis, and passion, which can have an impact on the listener.
Commitment to beliefs can also impact confidence, adding to credibility of the expression.
Validate and build confidence in belief
Even when committed to a belief, the speaker may not be very confident in that belief. It can take an extended period of time and reflection to build a deep enough level of confidence to assure that speaking a belief comes across with great confidence.
Validate and build credibility in belief
Even if the speaker feels confident, there may be lingering questions about whether the speaker has a credible justification for a belief that will be believable by listeners. The speaker will need to review and build up a base of facts and reasoning sufficient to match the degree of commitment and confidence in the belief.
Even when the speaker has covered all the bases and feels ready to speak, it is still worth a little extra effort to reflect on all of the aspects of the intended expression to ferret out any missing links or gaps, and to consider how the expression might be received and perceived by the listener.
Intent to speak
Intent to speak refers to the mental process of deciding whether speaking is appropriate at the moment or whether one’s thoughts should be kept to one’s self, at least for the moment. It can be broken up into separate stages, such as:
- Whether to ever speak the thoughts.
- Whether to speak in the current conversation.
- Whether to speak in the current moment.
- Whether to interrupt the speaker.
- Exactly when to intervene in the conversation.
- The actual commencement of speech, the opening of the mouth and initiating the flow of words.
One may decide to suppress a thought as a result of known, externally decreed and enforced censorship restrictions — rules that everyone knows that everyone is expected to follow.
Self-censorship has the same form and process as external censorship except that one is reacting to perceived expectations or even perceived personal expectations rather than explicit, externally-given rules.
Even when the speaker wants to say something and knows what to say, there can be a lingering sense of fear over whether speaking is the right thing to do or whether the timing is right. The speaker can consider whether any fears are justified, but ultimately the speaker just needs to make a judgment call and decide to overcome any fears and proceed to speak. Or not.
Passion can sometimes get the best of us. Anger can be consuming. We can certainly express anger, outrage, and even blind rage, but it is usually best to channel all of that negative energy into more positive thinking, transforming a negative passion into a positive passion that enables us to speak, communicate, and persuade more effectively.
Intention refers to the intended purpose of the speech, such as:
- Merely to inform, casually.
- Convey a thought.
- Convey an idea.
- Convey a concept.
- To persuade.
- To ask a question.
- To request information.
- To praise.
- To congratulate.
- To encourage.
- To provide passive feedback.
- To provide substantive feedback.
- To gently challenge, as in to profess ignorance.
- To explicitly challenge.
- To harshly challenge.
- To object to some technical matter.
- To express displeasure.
- To express offense.
- To express outrage in an intellectual sense.
- To express raw anger.
- To express raw rage.
- To intimidate.
- To mock.
- To ridicule.
- To demean.
- To belittle.
- To mislead.
- To lie.
- To cover for embarrassment.
- To manipulate.
- To warn.
- To taunt.
- To bully.
- To threaten.
- To harm.
Forming the expression
Separate from the actual words to be spoken, the speaker must decide what thoughts and concepts and meaning the overall expression is intended to convey.
Choosing the words
How one says something, the specific words, can be as important as the underlying concepts to be expressed.
That said, most expression is more free flowing, with the words just coming out, rather than forming complete sentences and complete paragraphs before uttering a single word.
Sometimes two or more equivalent expressions of the same concept can come across and be interpreted quite differently, especially considering the audience. So, sometimes thought must be given to how to express a concept depending on both the speaker and the audience, and the desired effect.
Timing the commencement of speech
After the words are chosen, there is a gap in time between choosing the words and actually forming the words, during which the speaker is deciding the exact moment to begin speaking. Factors include:
- Allowing the target to finish speaking.
- Allowing the target to finish expressing a thought or sentence.
- Interrupting the target due to some urgent concern or objection.
- Dramatic pauses.
- Short reflection on listening to the target.
- Second thoughts on intent, the actual thought, or the intended expression.
Forming the words
Once the speaker makes the decision to let the words flow, the actual words may be slightly or even dramatically different from the originally intended words due to factors such as:
- Slips of the tongue that may also be subconscious thoughts.
- Minor revisions based on how the speech feels as it is actually flowing.
- Response to perception of cues from the listener.
- Major revisions based on delayed thoughts about the original thoughts, either to moderate the intensity or strength of commitment to the originally intended expression or to intensify the sense of commitment
Speaking the words
The physical process of speech is quite complex, mostly automatic for most people, but sometimes conscious effort may be needed in order for the expression to be most effective, such as:
- Pacing, how fast or slow to speak.
- Loudness or softness.
- Carefulness of enunciation, intentional stressing, or even intentional slurring.
- Pauses between fragments of the full expression.
Enthusiasm is infectious. Dry speech can communicate a basic idea, but may not be very effective in persuading people to accept it. Enthusiasm helps to turbocharge an idea.
Tone can convey a significant portion of meaning, such as how serious does the speaker wish to seem?
Although loudness and softness are part of intensity, choice of words, pacing or words, judicious pauses, and other factors can impact the degree of intensity of an expression.
- Eye contact, or not
- Who to focus on when speaking to a group
- How erect to stand or sit
- Whether to stand or sit
- Angle of head
- Whether to walk or pace
Feedback from listeners is an important factor in assuring that speech is effective. In particular, if it seems that listeners are not responding enthusiastically or as otherwise desired, the speaker has the opportunity to shift the manner of speech to get back on the desired track.
Reacting to the reaction
Upon observing the reaction to speech, the speaker may decide to adjust the manner of speech to exploit what is working best and compensate for what is not working as well as desired. The speaker can build on observed enthusiasm, and attempt to reiterate and even rephrase portions of the expression to fill in any gaps where it seems that the audience is not accepting the intended message.
Action related to speech can be direct action or indirect action.
Indirect action related to speech refers to actions which do not result in any physical contact with the target of the speech, such as:
- Invasion of personal space
- Getting in somebody’s face
- Blocking someone’s passage or escape
- Shaking of fists
- Sharp stabbing motions with a pointed finger
Direct action refers to engaging in physical contact with the target of speech. This can have both positive and negative forms.
- Gentle arm grasp
- Gentle touching
- Aggressive or inappropriate touching
Contemplation of any speech from the target, including visual cues and body language
After speaking, one can listen to the response and decide whether or how to respond. It may simply be that the listener’s response should be digested and recorded for later deeper thought and reflection, or some more immediate and even visceral response may be appropriate.
Rinse and repeat
Speech is commonly an iterative process, alternating between one party speaking and the other party listening, until either they both feel satisfied that the topic has been fully covered, time runs out, or one or both sides decide that the conversation is no longer fruitful.