Words fascinate me. Walking into a book store jazzes me the way some people invest emotionally in sports or music. From my first published work at age 13 (op-ed piece in our local newspaper) to being a Spanish major in college, to conducting Communications Skills workshops for employees, language has always been more than just “talking” to me.
My fellow bloggers Mary Jo Asmus and Art Petty recently co-wrote a great blog post on the impact a leader’s words can have on the team he/she leads. That idea really resonated with me and became amplified as I re-read Now, Discover Your Strengths for a book review on this blog. On page 33 of that book, the authors state:
The language of human weakness is rich and varied. There are meaningful differences in the terms neurosis, psychosis, depression, mania [etc] . . . In fact, this language of frailty is so widespread that most of us non-experts probably use it pretty accurately. By contrast, the language of human strength is sparse.
The “language of frailty”. For days after reading that phrase, I kept coming back to it. What is it about language that keeps people focused on the negative and not the positive? My own experience in working with teams bears this out. When I facilitate a workplace dynamics session, I’ll ask the group to create two lists:
1) What makes it easy to work with someone?
2) What makes it difficult to work with someone?
Guess which list is longer and is more quickly generated by the participants? Yep, list #2.
Why are we prone to saying what we don’t want rather than what we do want? Studies show that people understand positively worded statements more quickly than negatively worded ones, so this phenomenon seems counterintuitive.
Anyone else out there intrigued by the concept of “the language of frailty”?