Power dynamics are everywhere, from our personal relationships to our professional ones. Do you know where do you stand in yours? Here’s a little psychology experiment you can run at home. Finding out could be as simple as reading through your old e-mails.
I’m going to spend the next few paragraphs introducing this subject, partly to contextualize what it is we’re talking about, but also because it’s just a fascinating subject. What we’re dealing with here is language, specifically those parts of language that we often overlook, and how we use it.
“The,” “this,” “a,” “and,” “an,” “there,” “that,” are all examples of what are called “function words.” You can think of them as the glue that bind together so-called “content words” – which convey information by denoting key people, places, things, and situations – into meaningful statements.
There’s no question function words are important from a structural standpoint, but according to UT Austin psychologist James Pennebaker, they’re basically invisible to humans; as we read, or listen to someone speak, our brains tend to overlook them as we search for meaning in a statement’s meatier, more consequential content words. And that’s a shame, he says, because there’s a lot of information hidden in how we use function words.
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