Summary of Words Can Change Your Brain by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Words Can Change Your Brain by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman

In a world where text messages and short emails have become the norm, our communication skills are disappearing. It is evident in the way people’s professional and personal relationships suffer. How often can an argument or misunderstanding be avoided if you had just managed to say the right thing or took the time to listen before jumping in? Small mistakes can easily lead to much larger issues and can leave us trying to figure out what went wrong. 

So, what can be done to rectify this? The good thing is that communication skills can be easily learned and implemented into your daily life. Words Can Change Your Brain has narrowed it down into 12 steps. The moment you start communicating effectively and confidently using these steps, you will be surprised at how much your life can change.

In this book summary readers will discover:

  •  A clear mind is essential for communication
  • Thinking positive and identifying your inner values
  • Facial expressions and tone should not be forgotten
  • Speaking is just as important as listening

Key lesson one: A clear mind is essential for communication

Just like you have to prepare your body before an intense workout, so too do you have to prepare your mind for communication. The first step to communication is to ensure that you have a calm mind. Everyone knows what it feels like to be in a bad mood or extremely stressed and inadvertently snapping at those in your close proximity. It is not a pretty sight, nor does it leave you feeling any better. In fact, you probably feel even more stressed afterwards. Thus, it is important that you focus on calming your mind. This can be easily done by taking a minute to do some breathing exercises. Just taking this time to focus on your breathing has the ability to activate your brain. 

The second step is to try to be present in the moment. The breathing exercises can get you to focus on the moment whilst you are actually doing them – you need to learn to make sure that you continue to be present after you are done. It is easy to lose focus when your thoughts start flooding your mind. This is exactly what happens when you are having a conversation with someone. Those inner thoughts distract you and that is why you need to practice being present. The third step relates to this. It is called cultivating inner silence and can be achieved by a simple exercise – ringing a bell. When you ring the bell, focus on the sound that resonates for 15 to 30 seconds. Once the sound fades, try to focus on the silence. The more you practice this, the easier it will become to silence your inner speech and remain present while communicating. 

Key lesson two: Thinking positive and identifying your inner values

It’s hard to be around people who only see the negative side of everything. They tend to suck the joy out of any experience and can be particularly difficult to interact with. This is why it is important that you do not become this person. Step number four to getting better at communication is to increase your positivity. Negative thoughts trigger stress hormones in the brains of anyone who hears them. Stress hormones make people anxious and irritable, making cooperation virtually impossible. These are only the short term effects, if they are present for extended periods the long term effects can be detrimental. This is why you should find ways to remain positive. 

Your imagination is a great source to generate this positivity. Research has shown that simply imagining a positive dialogue before a conversation actually occurs, makes people happier with the outcome when it does happen. It also helps to let go of any negative ideas or thoughts you may have about the person you wish to converse with. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist, recommends three positive thoughts for every single negative one. If you can’t come up with three, chances are the conversation is not going to turn out well. Thus, you might want to wait until you are in a place to counter these negative thoughts with more positive ones.

The next step also deals with your own inner thinking. Step number five asks that you identify your inner values. These are values that important to you and have developed over the course of your life and your experiences. Everyone has different inner values in relation to science, religion, love, politics and even money. The most important thing is that you know yours because they will guide you in all your communications. You have to dig deep to actually identify them. Most of us know we have them but we don’t exactly know what they are until we actively look for them. Once you know them for certain, you will find that they will help you with your daily interactions. Being in tune with your inner values will make you more resilient and make cooperation with others much easier because you can identify where your actions are coming from.

Key lesson three: Facial expressions and tone should not be forgotten

When we communicate, it’s not only our words that make an impact. Our facial expressions and tone are also important. Did you know that there are more than 10 000 facial expressions? Each one of these expressions conveys a message. Some of them we know and some, if not most, are missed by us during a conversation. In fact, we are probably not even aware of our own facial expressions. This is where step number six comes in. You need to be aware of your facial expressions and put your best face forward when entering a conversation. You want your facial expressions to convey kindness, generate interest and encourage trust. For that to happen the best thing you can do is to think of a happy memory. By doing this, you are bound to generate a facial expression reminiscent of the Mona Lisa’s gentle smile. This type of expression will lead to an open and honest conversation and prevent your face from conveying the wrong message while you speak. 

But your face is not the only thing that could hinder your conversation. Step number seven asks that you also be aware of other non-verbal cues. Your body language is the other predominant factor. If your body language, facial expressions and words don’t match, you will leave the other person confused as to what you are really trying to say. You want to keep their attention whilst you speak. If they are distracted by your nervous knee bouncing while you speak, they will be more likely to doubt your confidence and honesty. However, it’s not only your non-verbal cues that you should be paying attention to. Once you begin to recognize these cues in others, you will also begin to gain insight into their feelings and thoughts. This enables you to address them immediately and open the conversation further. 

Step number eight deals with how you convey your words. To be a better communicator, you have to express appreciation. It is advised that you do so at the beginning and end of every conversation. In this way, you are encouraging a positive interaction with the other person. However, you have to be genuine and not just say nice things that you don’t believe. The next thing you have to watch is your tone. This is step number nine. If you use the incorrect tone when communicating, it can lead to huge misunderstandings. You should always aim to keep your tone warm and lower your pitch. This makes you sound compassionate and sincere when you speak and puts the other person at ease. 

Key lesson four: Speaking is just as important as listening

Now the last three steps to being a better communicator deal with how fast you speak, how long your speak for and how much you listen. Step number ten says that you should speak slowly in order for the other person to process the information you are giving them. A brain can only handle four bits of information at any given moment. Thus you need to choose what information you want to convey carefully and not rapidly fire a whole lot at once. 

The eleventh step ties in with this because it states that you should speak briefly. You need to speak briefly, giving the other person or persons time to process the information you have given them before moving on to the next bit. Ideally, you want to speak about 30 seconds at a time. However, this is not always possible but what you can do is subtly let the other person know that it is quite a bit of information prompting them to pay attention. 

Lastly, listening is also an important part of communicating. The twelfth step asks that you listen deeply to keep the conversation productive. Listening not only gives the other person a chance to speak uninterrupted but it also gives you the chance to put the other steps into action. You can remain present and focused on the conversation, observe non-verbal cues and practice your facial expressions. In addition, when it’s time to reply or if you want to ask questions, always aim to address what they have said first. This is a little acknowledgement that you were paying attention and keeps the flow of the conversation going easily.

The key takeaway from Words Can Change Your Brain is:

Communication is an important skill that we all need to work on. Being an effective communicator can often put you in a good position in both your personal and professional relationships. It is therefore important that you practice the 12 steps mentioned in the summary to improve your communication skills and get exactly where you want to be – on the road to success!

How can I implement the lessons learned in Words Can Change Your Brain:

Attempting to have a productive conversation when you are stressed or angry is never a good idea. However, it is not always avoidable. It is therefore important that you try and calm your mind and focus on the conversation. If the person you have to speak to is the source of your negative emotions, then try to counter the negativity with positive thoughts. This will help you retain a sense of calm despite your anger and clear up the points you want to get across. Remember to speak slowly and briefly whilst also paying attention to their side of the conversation. The more you do this, the easier handling similar situations become.

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