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Leadership Now

If You Talk About Yourself All The Time, You Might Need More Confidence

Who here feels self-conscious? Raise your hand and say "I."

[Image: Flickr user Jeremy Atkinson]

I did this, I feel this way, it effects me.

What kind of people pepper their speech with first-person pronouns? Is it that the more you say "I," the more you're a narcissist or a super-powerful egomaniac or a whole range of other expletives?

Turns out that saying "I' isn't so much about being super self-serving, but rather self-reflective. That is according to a new study led by James W. Pennebaker at the University of Texas, who tells the Wall Street Journal that you'll load your language with "I" not if you feel as if you're in charge, but rather if:

  • You're getting reflective.
  • You're feeling self-conscious.
  • You're kind of insecure.
  • You're in psychical or emotional pain.
  • You're trying to please.

So if you're feeling confident and powerful, Pennebaker says, you won't have a mouthful of self-referentials. Why? Because the high-status person is looking out at the world, he says, while the low-status person is gazing at their navel.

Our pronouns evidence our power dynamics. This isn't often a conscious thing, Pennebaker says:


If I am the high-status person, I am thinking of what you need to do. . . . If I am the low-status person, I am more humble and am thinking, I should be doing this.

For more on Pennebaker's methodology—including the five studies on which the paper is based—head to the original Journal post or read his book, The Secret Life of Pronouns.

Pronouns, power

What's startling about Pennebaker's research is that it helps us see how we don't usually see the way power (and feeling powerful) shapes our behavior. He says to keep an eye on your "I"—if you notice yourself talking about yourself all day, then maybe there's something amiss that you might've missed.

But it's not just pronouns: Your posture predicts—and reflects—your confidence as well.

Hat Tip: the Wall Street Journal

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