How Our Words Shape the Experience of Others


My parents, like most trying to communicate with a distracted child, would sometimes say,  “Well… it’s in one ear and out the other.”  Little did they know that their message literally  “went in one ear” and stayed there, encoding information throughout my brain’s neural circuitry and body.

Interesting things happen when we articulate our thoughts and the words leave our lips and enter the ears of the listener. The actual words and the way they’re spoken – inflection, tonality, volume, etc. – leave a lasting impression on the brains of those with whom we speak. Our words shape the experiences of others.

Looking at the power of words to shape experience from a neuroscience perspective leads us into very interesting territory.

Just as all of life is composed of matter and molecules, so are the words that travel from our lips to the ears of the listener. Each word we speak has its own molecular structure and vibratory field. (For example, the words ‘trust me’ vibrate at a different frequency than the words ‘you should’)

In your ears you’re having the sound (the words ‘ you should’) coming to you as movement in the air – air molecules that are moving and hitting your eardrum.  Your eardrum is being displaced back and forth, moving in the frequency totally dependent on sound (the words “you should”) that’s coming at you.

As the eardrum moves in frequency to the energy of the words, the acoustic nerve fires and distributes neural activity. In other words, the listener’s neural firing is directly shaped from my mind – based on what I decide to say and how it is said. And, here’s the interesting and powerful thing – the listener will decode this frequency of firing dependent upon what he/she has experienced in the past.

When we have an experience it means neural firing has taken place. This is the neural architecture of memory. So, in our conversations, our relationships – whether at work or in our personal lives – we need to recognize and understand the other person’s uniqueness and have our understanding guide what we say.

Depending on the nature and quality of our relationships, what we say can unearth deeply stored emotional experience. Strong emotional responses in the moment represent encoded experience from the past.  Our words truly vibrate and have consequences.

From a brain perspective both parties in a conversation are connected through neural circuitry.  Past experiences, embedded in either implicit or explicit memory, are triggered through neural firing, initiated by what we say.

So, when viewed through the lens of neuroscience communication is the exchange and interplay of neural firings between the parties involved in the conversation. The “agent” in this exchange is words. Words (as well as non-verbal behavior) create responses.  They have implications way beyond just communicating information. They create our internal narrative, shaping our perception of the world and ultimately determining the behaviors and actions we engage.

This notion that our words have power – I’m sure comes at no surprise, but understanding them from a neuroscience perspective – their vibratory power – reinforces the need for us to think before we speak.

I’m not suggesting that we have to become masters of syntax and grammar to tap into the power of our words, but even understanding the difference between a verb and a noun can have a very powerful effect on our ability to be influential and move others to action.

Taking action is not a whimsical act. Brain experiments show that imagining an action activates the same brain region as actually performing the action; however, the activation is at a lower level.

On an even more granular level, experiments suggest that specific brain regions are involved in the processing of verbs. Verbs are action words. Depending upon the circumstances, relationship, our desired outcome and personality of the person with whom we’re speaking – consciously choosing our verbs can have a major impact on activating the brain regions responsible for visualization and priming for action.

Whether in the workplace – or in our personal relationships, it would serve us well to hold in our awareness that our words can reach deep into the personal histories of people with whom we interact.

With power comes responsibility.

Thanks for reading,

George Altman,  Intentional Communication Consultants

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Photo Credit:   laurentfrancois64

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