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Power Verbs for Managers and Executives: The Technology and Power of Language

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In this introduction to his book, Michael Lawrence Faulkner explains how using power verbs adds color, flavor, spark, enhanced rhythm, and kick to our written and spoken words.
This chapter is from the book

Why a book on verbs, you may be asking? Not just verbs, but “power verbs.” There are a couple of reasons. First, there are already more books on language skills and specifically verbs than you can imagine, so the world does not need another one of those books. Second, it would not be much fun to write or read another boring language skills book (not that all the other books on verbs are boring). But, if they were so interesting, wouldn’t there be a movie or a music video of one of these books by now? Lastly, this isn’t a book about the old standby verbs. Everyone knows the 16 basic English language verbs: be, do, have, come, go, see, seem, give, take, keep, make, put, send, say, let, and get. We won’t spend much time of these.

Power verbs, on the other hand, are verbs that are emotionally edgy, powerfully positioned, with a kick, punch, and pizzazz. There will be more on these gregarious verbs later.

There are hundreds of books, guidebooks, blogs, and other ways for people to learn about how to use verbs and grammar. However, we wrote this book because in our combined half century of experience in leading, teaching, managing, mentoring, coaching, and marketing (and, oh yes, parenting), we learned one fundamental truth: It’s the combination of the chosen word(s) and the power of the way they are delivered—the rhythm—that makes the greatest difference in how people receive and react to words. We also realized that using power verbs adds color, flavor, spark, enhanced rhythm, and kick to our written words as well, such as poems, plays, and other writing. We have noticed that many writers and speakers hang safely to bland “verbs of being.” Just as a reminder, verbs of being are forms of the infinitive to beam, are, is, was, were, be, being, been, have, had, might, may, must, could, can, would, will, should, and shall. No one has to tell you these tend to be stylistically passive, stiff, somewhat bland, dull, and pedantic—somewhat boring, but safe. Of course, sometimes these verbs of being are necessary and that is when they should be used—when necessary.

Let’s Take a Moment and Think about Language

  • “Words are the counters of wise men, and the money of fools.”
  • —Thomas Hobbes

One of the peculiar characteristics of our culture is how we deal with communicating with one another. Communication is perhaps the most important human function in which we engage and we don’t do it very well and aren’t trained very well. Because we don’t trust our instincts driven by our amygdala (which some refer to as our animal brain) as much as we should, we have trouble really absorbing the nonverbal human communications adequately.

Think about all our acculturation that teaches us to deny our amygdala-driven instincts (e.g., “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” “Don’t jump to conclusions,” “Look before you leap,” “Act in haste, repent at your leisure,” “We should have a committee meeting to talk it over first”). In spite of the knowledge of how much communication is transferred by nonverbal cues, there is very little education and training in our schools to improve human nonverbal perception.

We know from empirical research that an overwhelming amount of human communications (as much as 97%) is conveyed by nonverbal cues. These nonverbal cues are what some people refer to as body language. Much of this body language is found in various facial expressions. Research has shown that in spite of wide cultural differences in language and cultural norms, there are eight universal facial nonverbal expressions recognized throughout the world. Dr. Paul Ekman spent years studying facial cues and discovered 190 muscles in the nose and eye region of humans; many of these muscles respond involuntary and are keys to determine whether a person is telling the truth or lying. Some of these muscle movements are so subtle that only a trained expert can detect movement. However, most people “feel” these by their amygdala, the almond-shaped portion of their brain or what some refer to as the animal or reptile brain. Long before humans developed our thinking brain—the cerebral cortex—our amygdala functioned and provided the fight-or-flight emotion. Fortunately for our species, we chose flight early on in a hostile environment where we were outgunned by bigger, faster, and fiercer predators. We were low on the food chain but had the advantage of having the amygdala, which allowed our species to survive and evolve.

For the 3% of human communication that is conveyed by language, we generally don’t listen as effectively as we could and our educational system often fails students and society with minimal communication skills (writing and speaking skills). When you consider that communication is how we express almost every desire, need, emotion, feeling, want, expectation, demand, and frustration to other humans, it is surprising and disappointing that lower forms of life do a better job of communicating.

We know that man communicated with other men for thousands of years prior to the invention of human language. Long before human verbal language, people found mates, raised families, hunted together, joined in early tribal communities, and selected leaders, but there was virtually no innovation, hardly any art or crafts, no real trade or commerce, and a very short life span. Then came language and everything changed.

This book is by no means an attempt to explain any particular theory of human development, but merely an extremely simplified explanation of how language may have developed for the purposes of positioning language as an important component of your culture.

Kevin Kelly wrote a book in 2010 entitled What Technology Wants. In this provocative book, Kelly introduced a brand-new view of technology in which he suggests that technology is not just hardwired metal and chips, but a living, natural system whose origin goes back to the big bang.

My intention is not to review the book. However, I would recommend it be read by every manager, supervisor, boss, mentor, coach, influencer, instigator, team leader, team member, entrepreneur, capitalist, investor, futurist, investor, provocateur, teacher, professor, minister, government employee, politician, or new parent.

One point of Kelly’s book to which I will refer is the point he makes with regard to the technology of language. However, to get to that point, it is necessary to cover some human history, so stay with me for a little while.

We know humans developed language about 50,000 years ago. There are theories that language developed slowly and other theories that it developed more or less spontaneously. For our discussion, it doesn’t matter how language developed—it only matters that human language developed about 50,000 years ago. Kelly traces the development of human language to the behavior of humans. By tracing the behavior of the human species, we can follow Kelly’s argument that language followed certain human behavior patterns.

At some point about 2.5 million years ago, the human brain grew larger and we began to use more refined tools than our ape line. Archaeological evidence shows the growth of human brains and simple stone tools. At this point, the first migration began out of Africa for two human species—Neanderthal to Europe and Homo erectus to Asia—sapiens remained in Africa. It is important to note all three species had the same brain size and same rough tools. Over the next 50 million years, all three species developed at about the same pace (none with language skills). All three species hunted with simple tools, developed crude art, had children, lived relatively short lives, did not bury their dead, and the population of these groups remained unchanged. This was the Mesolithic Period.

Then around 50,000 years ago, something radically different changed, something radical happened, something very radically different occurred. The sapiens in Africa suddenly underwent significant genetic changes. The sapiens became full of ideas and innovations and developed the desire to innovate, move, and explore new worlds. They spread out of Africa in what is known as the second migration and in 40,000 years had settled in every corner of the earth.

In a fraction of 1 percent of the time it took for the first migration to take place and for the first wave to settle in one spot, the sapiens covered the world. Not only did the sapiens have the desire to move, but they were also full of innovation. They developed fishhooks, fishnets, variable size spears and bows and arrows, sewing, and hearth stoves; they buried their dead; and they created sophisticated art and jewelry. Sapiens developed trade, pottery, and animal traps and built garbage pits. In the process of mastering all these innovative things, they overwhelmed their Neanderthal and Homo erectus brothers, leaving sapiens the only human species on the planet.

The question we have to ask is what caused the radical change in sapiens? How did it occur? It can be argued that there was a point mutation or a rewiring of the brain was the cause. We are not proposing a cause, only stating the fact that there was an outcome that something radically changed, that something happened, that something very different occurred 50,000 years ago, and that radical change was language occurred and radically changed mankind forever.

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