When Words become Weapons

How to spot manipulation

Words have a lot of authority, and they change our brain. Negative words as well as positive words.

Currently, our society is brutalizing. That makes it even more important to keep in mind the power of words. We are living in times when hate speech becomes socially accepted. We hear words of hate, negative and limiting words on TV. Even in political debates.

I usually write and teach about the positive power of words. And how we can use words and thoughts to send active marching orders to our brain to get us what we want. To make us happier and more successful.

This article is about negative words and manipulation. Some of us do not seem to be as aware of the damaging effect of negative words as they are of the power of positive ones.

Words …

  • can shatter souls
  • are sharper than knives
  • can break people
  • can make us sick
  • make us suffer
  • are like traps and loops
  • build walls
  • can destroy and ruin
Just try this little experiment: Say aloud “I love myself” 20 times. Does it change how you feel? I bet you are feeling better than before. But negative words have the same influence.

Influence, Manipulation, Propaganda

Not just our words influence us, but also the words of others. Many people know about this power and use it against us. In normal times, I would say “Just remove yourself from people attempting to influence you by using negative words, words of hate.”  But these are not normal times, and I would tell you to stop watching the news or political debates.
There are many ways to use words to manipulate and influence us:


Disinformation means the act of suppressing information, playing down the importance of information or change its meaning.
  • Twisting the meaning of a fact
  • Exaggerating
  • Leaving information away

Word Manipulation

Pseudo facts

Example: 60% of clients are happy. How many have they asked? How did they ask? Did they maybe just ask ten buyers at the checkout to nod if they are happy?

Emotional words

Words that stir our emotions have a very influential effect. For instance: “family”, “quality of life.”


Instead of “guest worker” you use the term “foreign worker” or even “alien worker.”

Twisting words and meaning

Instead of terrorist, you call it “freedom fighter.”

Elimination of harmful words

Goebbels (Nazi) for instance disallowed the use of the term “assassination.”


Just like with auto-suggestion, repetition is a powerful influence-enhancer. Repetition is often used in the context of influencing us towards negative feelings. By the hate speaker, who might also attempt to invite the crowd to hate chants. A mighty weapon.

Choice of words

Doctors and therapists use this method as well. Author Paul Watzlawik wrote about a surprising phenomenon: A doctor helps a kid to get rid of his warts with the following trick: He gave the kid a coin and told him that he will buy the wart from him.
This absurd statement causes psychosomatic reactions. The blood vessels shrink, and the wart dies off. With the coin, the ownership of the wart changed.
Any absurd negative statement would have a similarly strong effect. For instance: “I will build a wall, and they will pay”.

Qualitative and quantitative information

“The big tragedy of our society is that we have too much quantitative information and too few qualitative. We know way more than our ancestors, but we know it less good. We need better information by getting the information in a better way – not by getting additional information.” P. Lévy.
Way too often the spectacular comes before the important, the meaningful gets suppressed by the sensational.
That keeps us from seeing clear and coherent.
Our perception of quantitative results can be influenced. Example:
Test result of a heart treatment pill:
A = Number of heart attacks reduced by 33%
B = 1.4% less heart attacks
C = 95.9% of the test group given placebo has not had heart attacks, while 97.3% of people who used the medicine were heart attack free
Naturally, we would prefer alternative A that decreases the number of heart attacks by a full 33%.
The funny thing is that it's the same medicine and the same study. The results of the “Helsinki Heart Study” were:
4081 patients have been observed for 5 years
2051 received the real medicine. 56 of them had a heart attack
2030 received placebo. 84 of them head a heart attack.
The treatment was successful in 28 additional cases. That is 33% of 84 heart attacks without the medicine. The placebo was ineffective in 84/2030 cases = 4.1%. The treatment only in 56/2051 = 2.7% of cases. That is a reduction of 1.4%. The treatment made 2051 people attack free = 97.3% – over the placebo with 95.9%.

Suspicious wording

Travel agencies are masters in questionable wording:
  • Natural beach (probably full of seaweed and stones)
  • Easy-going guests (they will hit on you hard in the hotel disco)
  • Ideal for guests who love great beach holidays (enjoy the day because it's dead here at nights)

Insecurity can increase trust

Every so often, we perceive statements as more believable when the speaker signals uncertainty. Unpolished speech, searching for words, can come across more trustworthy than a perfect, polished speech.

Speaking in pictures

Not just in hypnotherapy, pictorial speech is used. Who speaks in pictures, speaks more forceful. The pictures get stored in our long-term memory. Word and image (right and left brain) get connected.
Example: It has been proven that creating a picture of fat cells can influence:
“The greedy cells are white-yellowish, oval, and they build up in high, honeycomb-like layers. They grow and grow incessantly.”
Even though this statement is incorrect from a scientific and medical standpoint, obese people have been found to be influenced by it.
Politicians use this form of pictorial speech with great success.

How to spot propaganda

Typical manipulation techniques:
  • overstating advantages
  • understating disadvantages (or not mentioning them)
  • censoring or ignoring other opinions
  • knowingly stating false facts
  • getting personal
  • missing indication of sources
  • strong emotional appeal (prejudice)
  • denigrating opposition
People that are afraid or insecure can be manipulated the easiest. Everyone is looking for stability in times of uncertainty. 
Nobody knows this better than the pipers.

What can you do?

To make sure that you cannot be manipulated against your will, you will need a high level of Emotional Intelligence. A high EQ allows you to understand your feelings, the feelings of others and be in control of both, your emotions and your actions.
If someone with a hidden agenda tries to manipulate you, you will see right through it. You will also be in the know about the source of your emotions so that you are immune against manipulative speech.
That said, a high EQ also comes with the power of influencing others. It allows you to have better relationships in business and life.