Self | Psychology

How Your Personality Is Revealed By Your Choice of Words

Use deliberate listening and empathy to better understand people.

Sean Kernan
5 min readSep 15, 2023

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Man talking with his therapist.
Pexels Images via Cottonbro studio

25 years ago, my 8th grade soccer coach walked up and said, “Can I talk to you for a second?”

We went back to his office and he went on to explain that he didn’t have a spot for me on the team. I was new to soccer and this was a competitive school — so it shouldn’t have been surprising. But I was crushed. I was the new kid and soccer was all the craze and a way of making friends.

At the time and in my own immaturity, I thought he’d been cruel and unfair. But decades later, I still think to myself, “Man. Coach Maloney was one good dude.”

Why? Because he was so kind in the moment. He was empathetic and explained his reasoning in a fair way. The team was already too bloated and it created problems when you have too many players. I remember he grimaced as he said, “This is the hardest part of my job and I hate doing it.” He encouraged me to come back next year (I did and, fortunately, made the team).

It wasn’t until I went out into the world, dealt with a few jerks, bad breakups, and a bad boss or two that I saw what a jerk is actually like.

People often take language for granted and treat it as a back and forth at face value. Yet you can learn a ton about people by the words they choose. It can reveal their motivations, goals, character, mood, and more. The big idea is that — there are endless ways to say the same thing. How someone chooses to say it, says much about them.

Insights from linguistics analytics

A University of Colorado researcher, Dr. Tal Yarkoni, isolated the most common words used by bloggers according to their score on the Big 5 personality traits. Agreeable people often used the words “wonderful,” “together,” “visiting,” “morning” and “spring.” They also used affectionate emojis and various words for love. Extraverts used “bar,” “other,” “drinks,” “restaurant” and “dancing.”

People scoring high on neuroticism often used “awful,” “lazy,” “worse” and “depressing.” It reflected their common cynical outlook.

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Sean Kernan

Writer and writing instructor. Always on the hunt for a good story. That guy from Quora. Writing out of Tampa, Florida.