“You’re a bratty, annoying little two-footer. And furthermore, you’re a lousy kid.”
Hopefully no adult ever said anything quite that mean (or over the top!) to you when you were a child. But if they did, here’s some news: a study called “Words Can Change Your Brain,” co-authored by Mark Robert Waldman and Andrew Newberg, M.D. (and discussed at Salon.com) indicates that our brains are “wired to respond to certain kinds of speech.”
Image courtesy of o5com’s Flickr photostream.
If the study is correct, it means that our neural pathways can actually be changed by the kinds of words routinely spoken to us. Thus, negative language will foster a negative mindset, while positive words will have the opposite effect. So the words we use matter.
The importance of the words we use came up in a conversation I had the other day with a business acquaintance. This gentleman noted that in a recent discussion with a Cambridge linguist, she emphasized the idea that “words matter.” In light of the study’s findings, what the linguist said really rings true. The actual choice of a word can have a significant impact on the quality and effectiveness of communication.
If you’ve ever tried to write something — whether it’s a memo or a novel — you will know exactly what I mean. How many times have you sent a written communication only later to find yourself thinking, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t used that word (or words); it didn’t say exactly what I meant”?
In an era of quick communications (email, twitter, texting) it’s all too easy to be careless with word choice. But in business communication, the words you choose to use can have significant impact.
Think of it this way, if you constantly choose negative words to express yourself in your business communication, it’s the equivalent of a mother screaming at her child. If you tell people they are incompetent or irritating one too many times, they will start to believe it, or, at least resent, being talked to that way. (And being told you are incompetent or irritating is, to say the least, de-motivating.)
So here are some quick tips from The Language Lab to apply to both written and oral business communication. They should help keep you on the track of making sure your words matter, in a good way.
The Language Lab’s “Make Your Words Matter” Tip Sheet
-Accentuate the positive: A general rule of thumb is for every negative or critical word or term you use, balance it with three positive words or terms.
-Location, location, location: Starting any form of business communication with the positive; then introducing words that may be critical or bear some negative weight is a better approach than the other way around.
-Concise and precise: Don’t waste words. Keep your communications concise, as opposed to wordy. People will tune out wordiness. For some good examples, have a look at the ‘wordy vs. concise’ chart at the career development website, Wet Feet.
-For a deeper understanding of why words matter and how you can improve the way you use language, read the following Language Lab blog posts:
–The Power of Words: Words that Sell
–Profanity and the Power of Language: When Words Offend
–When the Boss Says You Don’t Write Well What Do You Do?
–The Art of Persuasion: Key to Effective Communication
–Workplace Communication: Mind Your Tone!
Do you have a question about how to choose the right words for your business communications? Ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on the blog.