The words we use to convey our messages can be charged with astonishing power or they might simply be lame and lifeless. When you need to influence people, for example as a leader, the words you choose to utilise can be the difference between your communication succeeding or failing.
Today, I came across this wonderful video about the power of words. It started me thinking about how the words we choose really do have the power to impact our reality. The video provides a good example of how this works in practice. The difference between choosing the right words and the wrong words is very well illustrated indeed.
As you can see from the video, two messages can be identical, in terms of their meaning, but they can impact people in entirely different ways. Why should that be? Well, think about the following question for a moment or two, before reading on: would you have stopped to put a coin in that man’s tin after reading his re-written message?
You may, of course, have been one of the kind people who would have put a coin in the tin before the sign was re-written. If that is the case, then this lesson might not impact you in quite the same way as it otherwise might, but the fact is that most people would probably have walked right past that guy with his original sign in place. If however you felt something, when you read the re-written sign, something that might have moved you to take action, then what exactly was it?
The answer, of course, is that the re-written message contains the emotional content that is lacking in the first message. Although both messages have exactly the same basic meaning, it is the second message that engages our emotions. When you come to think about the different kinds of messages we put out in everyday life, in all kinds of ways, we often have to choose words to encapsulate or accompany our messages. Choosing the right words rather than the wrong ones can have a similar dramatic impact on our results.
Something I often teach, in my workshop on presenting skills, is how to make use of the power of storytelling. Stories are something that we all love. History was passed on in this way before writing was invented and they impact us in a way that a plain statement of facts, or truth, simply do not. As I usually point out, storytelling was pretty-much the main teaching technique used by Jesus, and his stories are still with us thousands of years later. A great example of choosing the right words to convey meaning.
The stories that Jesus told were, of course parables; a particular kind of teaching story with the message embedded. They work brilliantly because of our remarkable ability to remember stories accurately. When we remember a parable, we remember the embedded learning too. It is one of the reasons I personally try to make good use of stories in my own teaching. Something I have noticed over the years is the astonishing power of storytelling not only to get people engaged with a subject, but also to stimulate interest whenever attention begins to flag.
The writing of Ken Blanchard provides an excellent illustration of the use of the parable approach in his teaching of management principles. The book he wrote in partnership with Spencer Johnson, The The One Minute Manager, is an excellent example, as was the book Spencer Johnson wrote on the subject of stakeholder management, Who Moved My Cheese? Both of these books teach basic management techniques, but in ways that are entertaining and memorable.
Let me tell you a story …
Naked Truth and Parable
Naked Truth walked down the street one day.
People turned their eyes away.
Parable arrived, draped in decoration.
People greeted Parable with celebration.
Naked Truth sat alone, sad and unattired,
“Why are you so miserable?” Parable inquired.
Naked Truth replied, “I’m not welcome anymore.
No one wants to see me. They chase me from their door.”
“It is hard to look at Naked Truth,” Parable explained.
“Let me dress you up a bit. Your welcome will be gained.”
Parable dressed Naked Truth in story’s fine attire,
with metaphor, poignant prose, and plots to inspire.
With laughter and tears and adventure to unveil,
together they went forth to spin a tale.
People opened their doors and served them their best.
Naked Truth dressed in story was a welcome guest.
Helen Forest Wisdom Tales from Around the World
At my workshops, I sometimes ask people whether they tend to make their decisions logically or intuitively, and generally, I get a pretty even split. For me, I recognise that many of my decisions are basically made intuitively, or emotionally. This is certainly true when to comes to house buying. For example, I ‘love’ the house we have just bought; and I ‘loved’ it right from the moment I first saw it, even from the outside. That is the language of the heart, right there in my recollection of that moment we drew up outside to get our first glimpse of where we will probably live for the rest of our lives; and a strong indication of the emotional connection in our decision to buy.
It is said that we reach many of our buying decisions emotionally and then we attempt to justify them logically. This truth has many implications for those engaged in attempting to influence others; those in leadership positions, for example. Stories provide us with a tried and tested method of engaging with the emotions. So think about how you can use them, as a tool, in your communications with others, whatever your message.
Develop your own repertoire of stories to illustrate the point to wish to convey and you will simultaneously improve your ability to communicate. And remember that a simple change of words can have such a dramatic effect on the results you obtain.