Personal Pronouns as Relationship and Company Indicators

The per­son­al pro­nouns used by couples dur­ing “con­flict­ive mar­it­al inter­ac­tions” are reli­able indic­at­ors of rela­tion­ship qual­ity and mar­it­al sat­is­fac­tion, accord­ing to a study track­ing 154 couples over 23 years. The study showed that We-words’ (our, we, etc.) were indic­at­ive of a more pos­it­ive rela­tion­ship than ‘Me- and You-words’ (I, you, etc.) (doi).

Using We-ness lan­guage implies a shared iden­ti­fic­a­tion between spouses, even when the con­ver­sa­tion is focused on an area of con­flict. Con­sist­ent with this, We-ness was asso­ci­ated with more pos­it­ive and less neg­at­ive emo­tion beha­vi­ors and with lower car­di­ovas­cu­lar arous­al. In con­trast, Sep­ar­ate­ness lan­guage implies a great­er sense of inde­pend­ence and dis­tance in the rela­tion­ship. Com­pared with We-ness, Sep­ar­ate­ness was asso­ci­ated with a very dif­fer­ent set of mar­it­al qual­it­ies includ­ing more neg­at­ive emo­tion­al beha­vi­or and great­er mar­it­al dis­sat­is­fac­tion.

Sim­il­arly, the per­son­al pro­nouns used by CEOs in their annu­al share­hold­er let­ters provide a use­ful way of pre­dict­ing future com­pany performance. No doubt gleaned from the Ritten­house Rank­ings Candor Sur­vey, this is from Geoff Colv­in’s book, Tal­ent is Over­rated:

Laura Ritten­house, an unusu­al type of fin­an­cial ana­lyst, counts the num­ber of times the word “I” occurs in annu­al let­ters to share­hold­ers from cor­por­ate CEOs, con­tend­ing that this and oth­er evid­ence in the let­ters helps pre­dict com­pany per­form­ance (basic find­ing: Ego­ma­ni­acs are bad news).

via Bark­ing Up the Wrong Tree (1 2)