How Your Words Determine Your World

How Your Words Determine Your World 


Reading time: 6 minutes 12 seconds

Before language, there were grunts and gestures. We were just another animal that could effectively communicate with each other to perform basic functions.

Without language, there would be no cars, no planes, no skyscrapers, no religion, no science, no money, no computers, no internet, and certainly no moon landing.

Language is perhaps the most powerful tool in human history. It has provided us with the means to conceptualize what doesn’t yet exist.

It enabled us to collaborate in groups of millions and organize ourselves to do incredible things. It offered us the chance to reach the stars. And it also helped destroy billions of lives since the dawn of civilization.

The Power of Language

Like most incredible tools, language has a light and dark side. Many people today seem to be obsessed with the power of AI.

Most of the problems I see in the modern world, however, are largely a result of the power of language. And yet we rarely investigate how it is being used to ruin us.

Language shapes our reality. To figure out what we need to know and do about this, let’s first trace through how the words we use build the worlds around us.

There are five key ways that we use language to influence our realities:

1. Framing

The way we say things impacts the way people experience them. By using different words to describe an event, we can impact the way others experience that event.

2. Shaping Social Experiences

Language is used to create social bonds with others. We establish hierarchy and closeness through the words we utter to each other.

3. Defining

Language provides us with the opportunity to understand and categorize things. We work to find shared meanings which enables us to collaborate better with others.

4. Influencing

We can influence others with language to change attitudes and behaviors. This is extremely powerful as persuading others allows us to have more power.

5. Creating

By using language, we can build ideas that have never existed before. We can conceptualize new inventions for the future.

But with each of these five functions, how we leverage language to accomplish them, can play a big part in determining how we experience the world.

Let’s start to dive deeper into the nature of how we use language in society today and what it means for our collective reality.

Words that Build Reality

Nowadays, when news is broadcast we are no longer likely to get the facts. Instead, we must sift through the data we are getting and try to identify the difference between fact, conjecture, and opinion.

The news corporations feed us stories about the ‘realities’ out there in the world. It is not just what they describe happening but how they describe it.

The words they use incorporate hyperbole and provocative emotions designed to steer our perceptions of what they are reporting. It is not just reporting, it is framing. It is influence. They are defining a certain version of reality.

We have the same experience when we talk to our family and friends. They, too, are equipped with language that provides a frame and a feeling around what they are describing.

Everyone is trying to influence everyone else. This is important to understand.

For us to more effectively impact reality, we need to learn how language sculpts the experience people have when listening to us.

So often, we are exposed to arguments and claims put forward by others that dictate how we feel on certain topics by the word choices that are made.

Let’s look at some of the techniques used to influence us.

Persuasive Language Techniques

1. Personal Stories

Perhaps the most powerful of all is leveraging personal stories. We naturally relate to stories as find ourselves drawn into the emotionality of the story.

Often, when presenting conflicts, a news channel with a bias will spend more time engaging in storytelling for the victims on the side they support while they will present more statistics when describing the victims on the other side.

2. Emotional Language

While stories get us focusing on certain things more than others and responding to them more emotionally too, the specific language used can very much impact how we think about what’s going on. There are several strategies used here.

Let’s look at what Dr. Richard Bandler calls semantically dense language. These are words like ‘lurk’ or ‘crept’ that have implied meaning in the terms themselves.

This is different from words like ‘move’ or ‘walk’ that do not suggest any intentionality. Great writers tend to use this kind of wording instead of a plethora of adjectives and adverbs to be more efficient and impactful.

This is not far away from the idea of loaded language. This is the form of language used to provoke emotional responses in the listener. For instance, ‘Big Pharma’, ‘The Deep State’, and ‘Radical’ are all terms used to not just describe a group of people but to do so with strong connotations about their intentions or beliefs.

There is also the use of euphemisms whereby we resort to exaggeration or understatement to make certain ideas more palpable than others.

Think about terms like ‘collateral damage’ as opposed to ‘massacres’ or ‘mass murder’ or even in personal examples through terms like ‘passed away’ as opposed to ‘died’.

Generalizations are also found to be extremely effective in heightening the emotional impact of our messaging. Words like all, every, never, or nothing provide us with the opportunity to leverage hyperbole in the interests of cultivating a stronger emotion in others.

Exaggeration itself is an effective tool to build more hype in the listener.

3. In-group and Out-group Language

Then we have in-group and out-group language. This leverages storytelling and emotional language to very clearly paint pictures of who is good and who is bad.

An in-group is the group you identify as being part of. The out-group is anyone not in your group.

When we use in-group language we are speaking to each other in a way meant only to be understood by those in the group. For instance, in the tech industry words like ‘agile’ or ‘hackathon’ or in the gaming community acronyms like ‘GG’ (good game) or NPC (non-player character).

Even in the medical profession terms like ‘stat’ (now) or BP (blood pressure) are used.

Out-group language, on the other hand, is more about how we describe the other side. Consider ‘regimes’ (not governments). Or the use of ‘terrorists’ (not freedom fighters). Or something less intense such as ‘boomer’ to describe someone of a certain age.

When we hear stories or gossip about what is going on, the stories will be infused with emotional terms and in-group/out-group language to ensure that we see the world from the speaker’s perspective and feel what they are feeling.

Protect your Reality

So, given that such techniques are constantly being used, how do we protect our way of thinking and prevent ourselves from being hoodwinked into someone else’s worldview?

Here are some questions that will help:

1. Whose side is this story on?

2. Who are they saying is good and who is bad?

3. Why are they saying that?

4. What loaded language and euphemisms are being used?

5. What labels are they applying to which groups of people?

6. What are they trying to do with those words?

7. How would the same story be told from the other group’s perspective?

These seven questions can dramatically alter how you receive the stories you are told by others and maximize the likelihood that you will have a better grasp of what is going on.

The Inevitability of Influence

Part of life is accepting that language will always frame events. We will always use it to shape our social worlds and find shared definitions. We are constantly trying to influence each other from the time we can communicate and words help us a lot more than the gestures or tears we used as babies. This is all natural.

But for us to thrive as a world, we need to continue to use language to create. Every time we fight a war for reality and this story war tries to demonize the other side, we are using language to destroy. It’s so important that we become better at noticing our language and making sure we understand what most hyperbole and exaggeration are used for – effect.

When we start assuming that the language someone uses is an accurate portrayal of the world, we fall into the stories that divide us and reduce our capacity for critical thinking.

Challenge the stories you hear. Especially from the sources you agree with. It’s not easy. But it will help you to see things more clearly.

I hope you enjoyed this. Forward it to anyone else you think would find it interesting.



P.S. ‘An Executive’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence‘ is the most recent video on my YouTube channel. You can watch it here.





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