Words can change the physical structure of water molecules.
Do I have your attention? Good.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton famously said that "The pen is mightier than the sword." He had no idea back in 1893 just how true his statement was.
We know that words are powerful. They have the ability to start, end and prevent wars. Words have the power to make or break a sale. They can mend or end a relationship. As such, leaders need to learn how to communicate. It's not just WHAT you say; it is HOW, WHEN and to WHOM you say it as well.
This week, as you consider your communication skills, I'd like to draw your attention to the work of Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher. He spent decades researching the impact of words, thoughts, and music on water molecules. His research indicates that words have a much greater impact than we have ever imagined. Words can change the physical structure of water molecules.
In his book The Hidden Message in Water, Emoto lays out his methods and results. He separated the same water into different glass jars and exposed the jars to different words, phrases or music. Afterwards, he froze the water, photographed the water samples and observed them under a microscope. He noticed that words, phrases, and emotions that are considered positive resulted in a water molecule that was able to crystallize. When observed under the microscope, it had a unique, snowflake-like form. The "negative" words, phrases, and emotions resulted in a water molecule that was unable to crystallize. The molecule was either a blob or in disarray.
Full disclosure, the science community has not embraced his findings. Some were unable to replicate his results. There are multiple explanations for this, which frankly, would be a separate article altogether. I am choosing to do a review on it because his findings are in alignment with the findings from other disciplines, such as psychology, sales/marketing and electronic radiation.
There are three leadership applications that jumped out. Here they are.
#1: The Words You Use Matter
The water molecules that were exposed to phrases such as "thank you", "I love you", or other positive phrases had crystallized. They formed unique, snowflake-like structures. The most powerful phrase - measured by the most detailed crystal formation - was "love and gratitude". The water molecules that were exposed to phrases such as "you fool", "you make me sick", or other negative phrases were distorted and unable to crystallize. He ran the test in multiple languages, and the results came out the same. This impact of positive versus negative words has been studied in the psychology field. The research of Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman shows that words have "the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress". Positive words strengthen our frontal lobes, resulting in increased cognitive abilities. Negative words disrupt the production of neurochemicals that protect us from stress. Perhaps Emoto's work is showing the impact of stress on water molecules.
What words do you speak to your team? Do you express your gratitude? Do you let them know that you appreciate them? Or are you quick to tear them down? Given that the average adult body is 70% water, this means the words we speak to ourselves and others can impact our cell structure. Your words could be doing far more than just setting the tone: they could be creating chaos or order within the body. It gives new meaning to "speaking life" to others.
Please note, this applies to you as well. This applies to the conversation you have in your head. What is the constant narrative in your head? Are you quick to call yourself a "fool" or "stupid" after making a mistake? Do appreciate how far you have come and how much you have learned? Be careful with your inner dialogue.
#2: Invitation vs Command
Your method of directing your team also has an impact. Marketing studies have shown that consumers like to be guided into a purchase. They want to feel that they were the ones who chose to make a purchase. They do not want to be commanded, coerced or manipulated into a purchase. Likewise, teams that feel that they were included (or at the very least considered) in the decision making process are more likely to embrace the team vision. They are the ones that will work harder to achieve the goal.
Emoto's research arrives at the same conclusion. He tested the impact of an authoritative command versus an invitation. The result showed that the inclusive, team-oriented wording of "Let's do it" had a positive impact on water structure. The water molecule formed into a beautiful crystal. The demanding "do it" had a negative impact. This water molecule was unable to form a crystal. It remained a blob.
Are you the kind of leader that empowers your team? Do they feel they have a say or some type of control over their work? Be the kind of leader Jim Collins references in "Good to Great". Great leaders trains their team to become high-performing leaders. They get their team involved. They get their team bought into the vision and mission. They train their team to be proactive, go-getters. They are the type of leaders that say "We're in this together. Let's do it!".
#3: Exposure to Technology
Emoto ran a few tests to see how water molecules are impacted by exposure to computers and cell-phones. Exposure to either of these technologies had the same results as exposure to negative words: disorder in the molecule and the inability to crystallize. These technologies emit an electromagnetic field (EMF). The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences describes EMFs as invisible areas of energy, also referred to as radiation, that are associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and man-made lighting. In our high-tech world, we are bathing in EMFs. Various studies have shown that consistent and high exposure to EMFs can disrupt sleep patterns, increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, and increase stress levels. Not to mention, the physical strain on your eyes, neck and shoulders that comes with elongated use of computers or cell-phones. As I mentioned above, perhaps Emoto's research is showing the impact of stress on the water molecules.
The leadership take-away is to monitor your use of technology. Increased use of technology increases the stress levels in your body. When you are under constant stress, your brain does not function properly. It omits key data. Your short-term memory takes a hit. Your ability to think logically also decreases. In extreme cases, you might also experience an amygdala hijack, which can result in a temporary 15 point IQ drop.
Be mindful. Take breaks. Unplug and disconnect for a while. I mean, physically put your cell phone in another room (ideally, turn it off) and be focused on the people or the activity you are doing. Give your brain, body, and water molecules a break.
You words have an impact.
Are you using your words to speak life or to tear down?
You can get your copy of The Hidden Messages in Water to see more of the photos and read Emoto's thoughts and comments.