What is it that makes language powerful? I can give you a simple answer: words filled with emotion. Words themselves are powerful, but not nearly as powerful as those loaded with human emotion. Hate, love, anger, contempt, caring and compassion are all part of the full spectrum of human emotion available to all of us. Emotion is what makes language powerful enough to accomplish the task, move somebody to action, correct a problem or find a solution.
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We need the full range of emotion. In fact, things can get a little complicated, because at times you’ve got to put love and hate in the same sentence. When you feel it, it’s important to say it. Think about how often you have to say to your children. I love you, but I hate what’s going on. It’s crucial for kids to know what you love and what you hate. I love you, but I hate where you’re going. I love you, but I hate who you’re around. It can be extremely difficult to explain both your love and your hate, but you’ve got to learn to do it. You’ve got to express it; you can’t just ignore it.
Here’s where intensity plays its part: It changes the power of the word. Picture a word as a little straight pin. If I have a little straight pin and I threw it at you and hit you on the hand, you’d feel it. I’ve touched you with my words. But what if I took that little straight pin and wired it to the end of an iron bar? I could drive that pin through your heart. The pin is the word, and the iron bar is the emotion. Words backed up with emotions are so much more powerful. The emotions change the effectiveness of the word.
Keep in mind, however, that emotions must be well-measured. That’s what makes a good play, a good performance in a movie. When your emotions are well-balanced, you don’t overdo it when expressing a small point. That would look silly. All leaders have to be taught this. You don’t need an atomic explosion to get a small point across. In leadership, we teach you not to shoot a cannon at a rabbit. It’s too much firepower. It’s effective, but you’ll have no more rabbit.
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You also don’t want to err on the side of expressing too little. If it’s a major point and you don’t have much emotion, your words will lose effectiveness. You won’t look very good. It is a skill we can all learn and develop: knowing how much firepower to put into our words. Well-chosen words mixed with measured emotions are the most effective. You need to have well-chosen words available in your bank of mental resources, along with enough emotion from your heart and soul to make your communication work.
Where does intensity come from? It comes from the blend of all of our experiences. Where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, what you’ve heard, how you felt, what you went through, what you got into, what you got out of, your successes and failures—that is your emotional intensity.
You must have it available near the surface. For the presentation, for the play, for the conversation, this emotional stuff has got to be near the surface. Not too deep, not too far away, but available, ready to be mixed in with the language. That’s what makes an effective communicator.
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