“Recognizing that words have consequences, that choices made by people in power can have a direct impact, not just on behaviours but on our very institutions, is an important thing…What we choose to say, what we choose not to say, how we say it, has consequences.”Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada, National Post, January 8, 2021
“Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you.”Maya Angelou
Everything is created with words: new ideas, technology, products, businesses, dreams and much more. Thoughts create words, which create emotions, which then mobilize the words (actions).
Do words really change things?
In researching for this blog, I came across some interesting articles on how words impact water, plants and humans.
A Japanese scientist and water researcher, Dr.Masaru Emoto, studied the impact of thoughts and vibrations on the structure of water. He found that when words of love and gratitude were spoken near water, water crystals formed beautiful shapes. When evil or nasty words were spoken to a sample of water taken from the same sources, the crystals became distorted and ugly. Some remarkable results were produced. (Note: This study has not been published in a peer reviewed journal and has not been replicated.) See the pictures below.
IKEA carried out an experiment in a school in the United Arab Emirates to make a point about bullying. IKEA set up two identical plants in school and for 30 days students were invited to compliment one plant and bully the other. Both plants were kept under identical controlled environments and they received the same amount of light, nutrition and water. After 30 days the plant that was complimented continued to be healthy and thrive, while the plant that received the insults started to wilt and become droopy. This experiment was so successful in increasing awareness of bullying and in reducing bullying, that more schools approached IKEA to do the same experiment in their schools.
Dr. Andrew Newberg, and Mark Robert Waldman in their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, indicated that a word can trigger a physical and emotional stress and can change your reality. The science behind this is that if you hold a positive/optimistic word in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. The longer you concentrate on the positive words the more it will affect other areas of the brain. This helps build resiliency.
Negative or hostile language can disrupt specific genes that protect us from stress. This increases the activity in our fear centre and releases stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. This then interrupts our brains’ functioning and shuts down our logic, language and reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes.
Our bodies produce cortisol, which in addition to shutting down our thinking center, activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. This can make us more sensitive and these feelings can last 26 hours or more.
On the other hand, when we hear positive comments and have positive conversations, Oxytocin is released. Oxytocin is a feel-good hormone that improves our communication, our ability to work with others and increases our level of trust. Unlike cortisol, Oxytocin metabolizes more quickly and the feeling doesn’t last.
A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article showed that more positive interactions will build trust and help you see the good in others. Negative interactions increase suspicion and doubt.
HBR goes on to further discuss the chemistry of conversations and how managers need to be mindful about conversations and behaviours during the conversations. Conversations and behaviours that increase cortisol levels will result in poorer results and performance.
The same thing applies to conversations that are not work related. Negative interactions with others will increase levels of stress hormones and cortisol and damage relationships. Positive interactions will increase the feel good hormones and chemicals and improve our relationships.
These studies and experiments show the importance of our words and to be careful with them. They will affect our emotions and our brain’s response. This is true whether we are reacting to what someone is saying or whether we are listening to our inner self talk. Our language will determine how others see you and how you see others.
Our thoughts and words create realities for ourselves and for others. We can build or we can destroy with our thoughts and words. Words are our opportunities and our possibilities.