The Morality of Words

I recently read two articles about words – one made the point that some words have more power than others to persuade and motivate people, while the second article advised how to use two special words to “increase productivity, enhance collaboration among employees, make managers more effective and improve corporate performance.”

To be human is to use words.  Our thoughts come to us in words and go from us to others with words.  Different cultures have their own special words to express understandings unknown to members of other cultures.  We present ourselves to others mostly with words.  We belong because we can speak our own words to others and we can hear the words of others to learn about them.  We discriminate ourselves from others based on thoughts and feelings associated with words.  We distance ourselves from others, denigrate them, hate them, make trouble for them, argue with them, try to influence them, with words.

So, if words are so important, what is the morality of using words?

I wrote recently in Pegasus about etiquette.  Social conventions include moral conventions on what words to use when, in order to be gracious to or hospitable with others.  Well-chosen words build social capital.  The wrong words can dissolve social capital.

Jonah Berger wrote in the Wall Street Journal that since we all like to think of ourselves positively, by framing particular actions in a way that helps create those positive perceptions of self, we can intentionally encourage people, including ourselves, to behave accordingly.

Have you ever had a conversation with yourself about yourself?  Did you use words with depressive affect or words which lifted your spirits, validated your sense of your agency and put you in a frame of mind to solve problems and make the world better?

Berger had one tip – when you are working with others, change key action points from verbs to nouns.  Don’t ask another to “help” you do something.  Rather, ask them if they would like to be a “helper.”

People asked to become voters turned out to vote 15% more than those asked to “go vote.”

Use words that convey confidence, speak with certainty and bring forth some charisma from your inner, genuine convictions.

You can let people know you have heard them by using concrete words anchoring their concerns.

Ask for advice.  That makes the people who ask seem more sure of themselves, more skilled and qualified.

Most importantly, don’t pass by or overlook opportunities to say “thank you.”

Those are the two words which can bring home your bacon.  Let others know you value them. Feeling valued makes everyone think more highly of those who let them know that they matter and more willing to go out of their way to help those who show gratitude and appreciation.

So, teamwork and collaboration deliver more results and contribute to higher morale when thanks are given by one to another.  Expressions of gratitude accomplish more when they are made publicly.

Words become moral when they seek moral ends – care and concern for others, sacrifice of self-interest, acting as steward and eschewing taking advantage of others.

Words are building blocks of social capital, of moral capitalism and moral government.