“People who are interested in and paying close attention to each other begin to speak more alike.” James Pennebaker, a psychologist interested in the secret life of pronouns, has counted words to better understand lots of things. He’s looked at lying, at leadership, at who will recover from trauma.
But some of his most interesting work has to do with power dynamics. He says that by analyzing language you can easily tell who among two people has power in a relationship, and their relative social status.
“It’s amazingly simple,” Pennebaker says, “Listen to the relative use of the word “I.”
What you find is completely different from what most people would think. The person with the higher status uses the word “I” less.
To demonstrate this Pennebaker pointed to some of his own email, a batch written long before he began studying status. First he shares an email written by one of his undergraduate students, a woman named Pam:
Dear Dr. Pennebaker:
I was part of your Introductory Psychology class last semester. I have enjoyed your lectures and I‘ve learned so much. I received an email from you about doing some research with you. Would there be a time for me to come by and talk about this?
Now consider Pennebaker’s response:
Dear Pam –
This would be great. This week isn’t good because of a trip. How about next Tuesday between 9 and 10:30. It will be good to see you.
Excerpt of an article written by Alix Spiegel at NPR. Read it HERE
Images via Yale Scientific