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.

Would you like to learn more about using language as a powerful tool to bring clarity to your church? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

Download PDF

Tags: , , , , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Communication >


Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, Eric served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has 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, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.

See more articles by >


What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you Ed for sharing your insights into the Church Growth Movement. I have my reservations with Church Growth models because it has done more damage than good in the Body of Christ. Over the years, western churches are more focused on results, formulas and processes with little or no emphasis on membership and church discipline. Pastors and vocational leaders are burnt out because they're overworked. I do believe that the Church Growth model is a catalyst to two destructive groups: The New Apostolic Reformation and the Emerging Church. Both groups overlap and have a very loose definition. They're both focus on contemporary worship, expansion of church brand (franchising), and mobilizing volunteering members as 'leaders' to grow their ministry. Little focus on biblical study, apologetics and genuine missional work with no agenda besides preaching of the gospel.
— Dave
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you for sharing such a good article. It is a great lesson I learned from this article. I am one of the leaders in Emmanuel united church of Ethiopia (A denomination with more-than 780 local churches through out the country). I am preparing a presentation on succession planning for local church leaders. It will help me for preparation If you send me more resources and recommend me books to read on the topic. I hope we may collaborate in advancing leadership capacity of our church. God Bless You and Your Ministry.
— Argaw Alemu
comment_post_ID); ?> Amen!!
— Scott Michael Whitley

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.