Words Create Worlds – The Language We Use Shapes the Culture We Lead

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle tells the fascinating story of some experiments that Stanford psychologist and author Carol Dweck has conducted with fifth graders in multiple settings.

The fifth graders were put into two different groups and given the same tests. After completing the first test, the first group was told, “You must be smart at these problems,” and the second group was told, “You must have worked hard at these problems.”

The subtle and small difference made a big impact.

In preparation for the next test, the children were asked if they wanted to try an easier test or a more difficult one. As a group, those affirmed for their hard work wanted the more difficult task and the opportunity to learn. Those affirmed for their intelligence wanted the easy test. Likely they believed intelligence was the chief value, and they feared losing their good standing, their identification as the smart ones. In another round of tests, more difficult in nature, the children who were affirmed for their intelligence gave up much more quickly than those who were affirmed for their hard work.

The students returned to the original test, and the “you must be smart” group scored 20% lower than they did at first. The “you must have worked hard” group improved their scores by 30%.

The point, according to both Coyle and Dweck, is the language “you must have worked hard” fosters motivation and a growth mind-set, while the language “you must be smart” fosters the belief that intelligence is fixed. The small change in language makes a profound impact.

In organizations, in churches, and in families, language matters. Many have said that “words create worlds,” and I have found the phrase to be true. As leaders, the language we use helps shape the cultures we lead.

The words you use to articulate your mission, values, and strategy are essential. You can use language as a powerful tool to bring clarity and direction to the teams you lead and the people you serve. Or you can, as many do, underestimate the power of language and create confusion without careful attention to the words that describe the direction of your organization.

 Read more from Eric here.

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
— Debra
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
— Laurie
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)

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