Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

You, You & You

… Code Switching Our Various Roles

In any given day or week, you will transition between multiple roles that may include daughter, student, advisor, athlete, colleague, parent, friend, romantic partner. Each role can be dynamic, yet distinct, and effectively moving between our various ‘characters’ may  come naturally for some; less so for others.  The way you use language and the ability to alternate how you talk with different people is referred to as code switching in linguistics.

Code switching describes how people adjust the way they speak and the words they use with people depending on circumstances. Think about the differences in how you talk with friends, teachers, co-workers and family members, such as the degree of formality/informality and familiarity in your exchanges. When I would go to the beach with friends for a weekend, I would go into much less detail with my parents and co-workers about what went on compared to what I told my buddies. Not only are the words you use different, but your demeanor, body language and engagement also change with the situation. With practice, most of do this without thinking about it. These skills are honed over time.

Being able to transition – or code switch – is an art and it’s clear when you stumble. Imagine being in a job interview and talking casually as though you’re having a beer with a friend — slouched/a bit too relaxed in your chair and too familiar. Even if you’re interviewing with a start up, there are social cues that are expected. Your ability to code switch is visible to the outside world.

Playing a variety of roles can be exhausting, particularly when the roles seem so separate and distinct. And, inevitably, the way you interact with others will change with the situation. Code switching helps us go from Student Jane to Workout Rebecca as quickly as you go from Daughter Emily to Party Katie to Working Lauren. Be intentional as you move from one character to another. Code switching is your friend.

Janet Walkow is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at The University of Texas and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.