Change your Language, Change the Game


There was a great story this morning on NPR about a psychologist, Dr. James Pennebaker, who studies the power of language. Specifically, the power of function words, such as pronouns.

Using a computer program, Pennebaker can predict patterns related to successful dating, facts about people’s social status, whether they are lying, high-power people, etc.

Pennebaker argues that words reflect subtleties about who we really are. Things that we, ourselves, may not even be conscious of.

So the question is, if we change our language, can we transform ourselves and transform our results?

Pennebaker would argue no, but decades of research in social psychology and communication studies would say, yes.

Here’s an example. In coaching conversations, coaches pay close attention to the words that clients use to describe their situation (e.g., “I really should be making more money.”).

The coach could then respond with any number of questions: Should you? Really? Then what’s stopping you from getting paid more? What are you willing to change in order to earn more? Who says that you should be earning more? Is it that you’re entitled to more or that you simplywantmore?

All these question stemming from one simple language observation about how a person uses the word should and what that word implies or others: Want, need, desire, will, etc.

Bottom line: If you want to change the game for yourself, pay attention to your language and change the words that aren’t serving you well.

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