A Radical Idea for Boosting Verbal Skills and Happiness

Increase your verbal aptitude by doing non-verbal things

Posted Jun 30, 2016

Would you like to improve your relationships? Move ahead faster in your career? Do a better job preparing children for their futures?

One good way to do this is to sharpen your verbal skills.

Think about it.  We are a social species who heavily depend upon each other for affection, emotional support, physical well-being, income and education—and just about every other thing that matters in life.

Linnaea Mallette CCO
Source: Linnaea Mallette CCO

And language has evolved as a primary means by which we reap the benefits of our social nature. It is through language that we understand those around us and express our thoughts and needs. It is through language that we show others who we are and what we are capable of. It is through language that we bridge the gap between ourselves and those around us.

So it should come as no surprise that communication problems are at the top of the list of reasons that couples seek counseling or that poor verbal skills prevent otherwise talented employees from advancing or that college entrance exams heavily emphasize verbal ability.

But let’s face it: taking writing classes, public speaking classes or improving reading comprehension takes work, lots of it. Who has time for that?

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a simple, fun way to become better communicators just through day-to-day living?

Well, new research on the relationship between personality and verbal skill suggests  that there is: you might be able to improve your verbal skills simply by opening yourself up to new experiences.

William Revelle and co-workers at Northwestern University discovered that the “big five” personality trait of openness positively correlated  (.33) with multiple measures of verbal ability.  The trait of openness constitutes a desire for new experiences, and ideas along with an appreciation of art, poetry and abstract thinking. Personality researcher Colin De Young, who also found a correlation (.35) between verbal skill and openness, suggested that people who are open to new experiences learn and retain information better, giving them an edge in communication skill.

This doesn’t guarantee that opening yourself up to going new places, meeting new people, reading unfamiliar authors or going for nature walks will make you a better communicator. But it stands to reason that widening your aperture on the world will increase the breadth and depth of your knowledge and give you more interesting things to communicate.

So here’s a question: exactly how do you stack up both in openness and verbal skill?

Do these traits correlate in you? And how do you stack up with other readers of this blog?

Click on this link to find out. The link has two quick, simple tests that—roughly—assess both the openness of your personality and the level of your verbal skill (in English, at least).

At the end of the tests you’ll see not only your scores, but those of all the others who have taken the tests (anonymized, of course).  A scatter plot, with a regression line, will reveal how strong the openness-verbal correlation is for readers of this blog.

Even if your scores on both openness and verbal ability are high, it might still be a good idea to become even more open to new experiences and ideas.

As I pointed out in a previous  post, Learn your brain’s true age, making the unfamiliar familiar is the best way to grow your brain—literally—and to keep it young a vital throughout your lifetime.

Constantly pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone does for your brain what weightlifting does for your muscles: it grows and sustains healthy tissue.

So the next time your spouse suggests that you go to movie you don’t want to see, visit a relative you don’t want to visit or vacation in a place you don’t want to vacation, open yourself up to the experience and say 'yes'.

You may not be happy with the result but your brain will be!