The average person doesn’t regularly think about their specific choice of words when they speak or when they are listening to others speak. Yet, the word choice can be very important when people of power and influence are speaking, people are writing advertising, or a person is testifying in court.
Because there are those that do intend to use their words to drive certain images in our minds or intend to manipulate our beliefs and even our actions, it is critically important that we as listeners become more aware of the specific word choices of those who attempt to influence.
One example often used by politicians is some form of a statement about not giving, receiving, or spending a “single dime.” Often casual listeners will hear that the politician gave, received or spent no money at all. Yet, this phrase does not say that at all. Instead, it only states that the exact amount of ten cents was not involved. It says nothing about eleven cents, ten dollars, or a million dollars.
Companies do this in advertising as well. For example, a McDonald’s commercial that came out, which told the public that what they got was what they wanted. It is easy to hear that you get what you want, but again, that is not what the commercial stated. Instead, it was telling people that no matter what they got, it was what they wanted. Although this was likely a mistake, statements like this can be used to psychologically train people to believe what the company wants them to believe.1
Pharmaceuticals, for example, intentionally try to build fear to sell their products. They want you to believe that you just might have some serious condition and without their product, you may die. On the flip side, lawyers will try to play on your desires to have more money to get you to sign up with them in class action lawsuits. They will use words such as, entitled or deserve, to encourage you to believe it is owed to you. These advertisements generally try to tie any medical issues or problems you have had to a product that you might have used to create an image in your mind that you may have been wronged.
Often words are combined with images and sounds to play on your emotions. This is important because as people become more emotional, they pay less attention to the specific words and become more vulnerable to manipulation. Thus, making it easier to get you to support their opinion, buy their product, or take specific actions in your life.
Unless we are alone on an island, we encounter thousands of statements per day from many different sources. Some are intentionally trying to influence us, but many are not. Our family, friends, and co-workers may not consciously be trying to influence us to think a specific way, still the words matter. It is important to listen closely to each other. Lack of paying attention to specific words leads to misunderstandings, disagreements, and a lack of understanding.
It is crucial that we actually listen to all statements of consequence and pay close attention to the words that are used. Likewise, it important to pay attention to your word choices. What are you really communicating to the other person?
Pay attention to the words you say and the words you hear. It just might change your life!
1The McDonald's commercial was changed within a few weeks. We can only assume that others recognized the implication of the marketing statement.