Language has the Power to Influence


I have been spending time everyday, typically mornings, talking with my dad on the phone. He’s almost 76 and is really at a point in his life where the core of his being is who he is and often times when I try to say something different from him, he says, “Jennifer, you need to listen to your old dad. I’ve been around for a while and I know.” I have been taking a lot of time just listening to him and what he has to say. I’ve been impressed with his way of  living – a life that is a beautiful kind of simple. He reminds me often that I need to slow down, he encourages me to follow my dreams and to write – start now – don’t wait, and he makes me laugh so hard. His words, every day, influence me in my thinking. They have made me look at life differently and realize that slowing down is important. This feedback from him was from the heart and I know he’s right. I need to slow down. He did not say anything negative toward me in regards to the fast paced life I live, instead he models a simple life, shares his life, and said two words “slow down.” Those two words have lingered in my soul for the past few weeks.

My dad’s words have influenced me. They have all my life and they are a perfect example of how language can influence what we do on a daily basis. The words we use, the tone of our language, has the power to influence. I’ve seen this in the workplace, at Studio G where I workout, with my run group, on social media, and really, everywhere I go. The words that are used have the power to influence in both positive and negative ways.  This is not “new news” as many have discussed the power of our words: James Gee (who studies discourse closely), Lave & Wenger (in their work with community of practice), Holland & Skinner (as they discuss identities within a figured world), Peter Johnston (who discusses using choice words in the classroom) and many more. Many of these authors discuss in some form or fashion how our identity is formed by those around us, the communities with which we participate, and the words that are said within those communities. Language is powerful.

Knowing the power of language and it’s ability to influence, it is our moral imperative to truly think before we speak. It’s not just a “cliché” that has been handed down over the years, it is the truth. We need to recognize how what we say and how we say it influences others. Life is about influencing others. There are 5 things I hold dear as I think about those that influence me and those that I influence.

  1. Be honest. In order to influence, you first need to be honest. If you are not transparent in your thinking and honest with what you say, then it will be a false influence that will not be sustained.
  2. Have a growth mindset. You need to be willing to look at everything from a growth mindset (Dweck, 2007). We all can achieve if we are determined, use initiative, are resilient, and so much more. We have to realize that being successful is not “born” it’s “developed.” When working with others, approaching your work with them using a growth mindset can encourage and nudge them to greatness.
  3. Be vulnerable. Vulnerability is important. Brene Brown (2012) discusses vulnerability in her book, Daring Greatly. A great read if you have not read it yet! By being vulnerable we show that we are human and our actions help nudge others. Being vulnerable allows others to see that you mess up too. Through our vulnerability, we share our stories in hopes that others can learn and grow.
  4. Have a sense of humor. We all need to laugh every now and then and we need to share that laughter with others.  I recently read an article, Laughter is the Best Medicine, where I learned laughter relaxes you, boosts your immune system, protects the heart, and may even help you live longer?
  5. Lead with heart. This one is so vital. Relationships are at the core of what we do, therefore when thinking about influence it is not enough to just know what to say or do; you have to genuinely care about what you’re saying and doing. You must put the other’s interest at the center, listen, learn and then share your “words” with them.

I reflect on these five areas and realize that this is what I strive for in my relationship with my dad right now, in my career as an educator and a fitness coach/instructor, with my friends and so much more. By being honest, having a growth mindset, being vulnerable, having a sense of humor and leading with heart I know I can influence others as they have influenced me. It is through the words I use in these 5 areas that I can truly make an impact. So can you.

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