The often quoted study by Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton of Stanford University finds that using the word "together" inspired intrinsic motivation. Participants in the study worked on solving puzzles, each in the separate room. The only difference being that one group of participants was told they are working on the task "together" with the other participants.
This "feeling" resulted in participants working 48% longer due to intrinsic motivation and, they had more fun in the process, turning work into play.
The word "together" being a powerful social cue to the brain is truly important insight that will no doubt shed further light when interpreting power of social context and our relationship to social media among other things.
Certain words can motivate, others encourage, and some set us on fire. In my case there was one word that would immediately trigger a sense of discomfort early in my career: PROBLEM!
During a very challenging and stressful period I started working with someone who was a senior expert and a world leading authority in the area I was working. The first time I said to him that "we have a PROBLEM", he started rubbing his hands in anticipation of what I was going to bring up and said to me with big smile on his face: "NOOO, we have an OPPORTUNITY to solve a problem".
Seemingly insignificant, this was a Eureka moment that shaped the rest of my career and life. I recognized then that although, my work is really about solving problems there was sort of a road-block, a "feeling" that this word triggered and, I was becoming hesitant as if there was supposed to be someone else to show me the way and guide me towards the solution. These days, it is the OPPORTUNITIES that I welcome.
I am sure that for many of us there is a spectrum of words that trigger certain "feelings". It would be good to go through exercise of identifying those in order to understand both the magic as well as the consequences of the negative "feelings" they imply.
As in my case, I have seen it so often that people react negatively to word "problem" and it almost becomes a habit. The problem with avoiding the "problem" can cause personal issues but it can be more so devastating to the organizations when that attitude starts to trickle down.
Next time when you hear the word, try to remember - when the PROBLEM bells start ringing in your head and trigger known responses, try to catch that moment and, put a twist to it and call it an OPPORTUNITY, I am certain that the use of different word may allow all of us to break free from bad habit and think more freely, uninhibited by the weight of the word.