Our words reveal a lot. About our intentions, our emotional states, perhaps even clues into our personalities.
From just the written word, and without cues from facial expressions, body language, or tone of voice, precious insight can be gleaned.
I’m reminded of this this post regarding uncertainty when making philosophical assertions. In summary, the use of “surely” as a means of jumping to a possibly unwarranted and unelaborated conclusion (that the one making the assertion may not actually believe or be able to prove). The books “Psychological Narrative Analysis” and “The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us” further delineate narrative patterns that can give us insight into what others are really thinking and how they’re feeling. The former coming from a law enforcement perspective (with focus on lie detection and fact omission) and the latter from a more generalized perspective. Both are worth a read.
What’s most intriguing is the use of personal, self-referencing function words. Words like “me”, “my”, and especially the word “I”. We reveal our self-focus when we use these words; they’re typically employed when we’re in a position of weakness in some respect; people who suffer lower self-esteem or depression more frequently use “I” as well.
Let me add that using “I” occasionally doesn’t mean that you are depressed, or invariably in some position of weakness. These are patterns and not inevitabilities. I found it intriguing on many occasions when I had re-read an email that I’d previously sent to someone higher in the leadership chain. What I discovered is that, frequently, I had followed this same pattern, but that the responder omitted using “I”. Intriguing pattern, is it not?
So bosses are less likely, not more, to use “I”-words to subordinates. Like a handshake, we can gauge situational authority.
A handshake? More on this one later.