Have you ever heard someone say: “You have one mouth and two ears, listen more than you speak”, or ” Think before you speak, because you can’t take it back once you have said it.”
I wrote this post shortly after my granddaughter was born and have added to it since then. I was struck by the importance of our words then, and even more so now.
Everything is created with words: new ideas, technology, products, businesses, dreams and much more. Thoughts create words, words create emotions, emotions create action.
My granddaughter is unmarked by baggage, history, or trauma. She is a sponge that soaks up information that comes at her, she is curious, and full of joy. I realized that we (her grandparents and her parents), not only had the opportunity to help her learn how to grow successfully by teaching her physical skills, language skills, handling failures, and so on. We also have an obligation to be careful with the words we use when we speak to her, and around her.
There are so many books available on how to raise children, what to say or what not to say, how to build character, self confidence, etc., to guide their development. We internalize what we hear repeatedly; why not internalize something that builds us up.
All of this to say, that our words matter. They have energy, contain power, and must be used wisely. Let me show you what I mean.
Do Words Really Change Things?
In researching for this post, I came across some interesting articles on the impact of words on 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. 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 a 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 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. This was a dramatic way to show school children the power of words.
Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman in their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, indicated that a word can trigger physical and emotional stress that 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, which releases stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. This negative activity interrupts how our brain functions, and shuts down our logic, language, and reasoning centers, located in the frontal lobe.
Our bodies produce cortisol, which in addition to shutting down our thinking center, activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. We can become more sensitive for more than 26 hours.
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, so the feeling doesn’t last.
A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article indicated that positive interactions builds trust, and helps to see the good in others. Negative interactions increase suspicion and doubt.
HBR further discusses the importance of paying attention to what we say, and what our behaviour conveys during difficult conversations at work. Difficult conversations and behaviours increase stress levels and cortisol levels and lead to poorer performance and results.
Negative interactions with others (whether at work or in your personal life), can lead to damaged relationships, and positive interactions can improve relationships.
So what does this have to do with a leadership mindset?
As a leader or authority figure, your words hold power over those who follow you. Your mindset determines whether you build or destroy with your words. Your intentions, words, and actions determine your results.
The studies and experiments highlighted above, show the power of words, and why we need 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 we see ourselves, how others see you, and how you see others.
Our thoughts and words create realities for ourselves and for others. Words are both opportunities and possibilities.
“If we understood the power of our thoughts, we would guard them more closely. If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative. In our thoughts and words, we create our own weaknesses and our own strengths.”Betty Eadie
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