In the course of two consecutive days, I came across two research studies focused on the use of first person pronouns. For years now, I have been advising students and clients to employ inclusive language – “us,” “our,” “we” – to engage their audiences. These terms invite attention and make your communication more conversational. However, these two studies go even further and identify benefits of pronoun usage in helping make leaders appear more in control and people less nervous.
First person pronouns lead to perceptions of competence.
Researchers at Tulane’s Freeman School of Business found that the use of first person pronouns, such as “I,” “me,” “we,” “us,” “our,” leads listeners to have more positive impressions. Specifically, the researches assessed listeners’ views of companies based on how many first person pronouns leaders spoke during earnings calls. Regardless of the actual financial results, companies were perceived more favorably when leaders used many first person pronouns. The researchers suggest first person pronouns imply that corporate leaders have more direct influence and control. Thus, if you want to be seen as commanding and competent, you may wish to use a lot of first person pronouns. Of course, to take advantage of the connective nature of inclusive language mentioned earlier, I would prefer “we,” “us,” and “our” to “I” and “me.”
Avoiding first person pronouns in your self-talk can reduce your stress.
Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that altering how you phrase your internal talk can make a difference in your level of confidence. Self-immersive talk like “I should have prepared more” leverages first person pronouns and invites people to ruminate and see future activities (e.g., giving a presentation) as threatening. However, using self-distancing talk like “Matt should have prepared more” uses the third person and encourages a more confident approach to upcoming activities. Self-talk is a powerful tool to help manage anxiety. Quieting your negative internal comments and replacing them with positive ones can really help you feel less anxious. But if you can’t reduce the negative self-talk, try to do it in the third person.
The bottom line here is that choosing your words wisely – specifically the pronouns you use – can influence how others feel about you and how you feel about yourself.