Choose Your Words Carefully: What Your Choice of Pronouns Says About You|
We’re bringing our Monday newsletter articles onto the site! Here’s one of our favorites, on the importance of the choice of pronouns in communication:
How you talk says a lot about you. Well, duh– that’s not surprising. What might, however, surprise you is that your use of pronouns (for those of us who aren’t the best with grammar, myself included, those are the I, you, we, it, she, he) affects how you are perceived by others in the same way that tone, dynamic, word choice, and emphasis do.
Professor James Pennebaker is a leading Social Psychologist who studies our speech and what it means with the goal “to understand how the words people use in their daily interactions reflect who they are and what they are doing.”
His most recent research paper delves into “The Psychological Functions of Function Words.” If you think studying the way people use words is simple, you can read the thorough method section of this research paper: from establishing the difference between content words and function words to how to appreciate context by using algorithms and computer programs, to how people communicate nonverbally this research while simple sounding is very complex.
Pronouns reflect status
Here’s where pronoun choice gets really interesting: Pennebaker found that “the person whose use of ‘I’ words is lower tends to be the higher status participant.” Pennebaker studied both the Watergate tapes and students and faculty to come to this conclusion.
The study also found that women use the first person singular pronoun more than men do. A few possible explanations are offered by Pennebaker including the fact that “females are generally more self-focused than men… or that women have traditionally held lower status positions.” Correlation, obviously– but an interesting correlation nonetheless.
Lies by pronoun? And other interesting facts
Other fun facts from this research: one of the tables shows the 20 most used words in our vocabulary, “I,” “the,” and “and” are the top three. Absence of pronoun usage also correlates to a situation where someone is lying. Your ear wouldn’t pick up on this, but the study found that depressed people use “I” more often than those who are not depressed, possibly because those suffering from clinical depression often report feeling isolated and alone.
How about “we”?
Here’s a New Year’s Resolution: pay more attention to how others use pronouns, and to how you use them yourself. If using “we” correlates to higher status, then we who are in the know may have a leg up on the competition out there.