Great-Sounding Words and the Power of Seduction

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Learn to listen objectively to sweet-sounding words, and to watch carefully for the corresponding actions, or you may find yourself falsely taken in.

We’ve all heard them: ‘sweet nothings’ whispered in the ear; wonderful promises made; comments that flatter and excite; and bold visions and dreams pronounced that seem almost too good to be true. Such can be the case with words. And some people can be pretty darned good at using them. With their words they can charm us, intrigue us, excite us, uplift us, and yes, even seduce us. And it costs the person uttering those great-sounding words absolutely nothing to say them. Doing something always takes effort, while talk, as the old saying goes, is notoriously cheap. But words that are carefully chosen and artfully spoken can indeed be quite powerful. That is why, especially in our age of rampant character disturbance, we have to be quite careful not to be too impressed with or swayed by someone’s words.

The President of the United States recently delivered his State of the Union message to a special joint session of Congress. And during this traditional event, as has been the case in similar State of the Union addresses, some very powerful words were spoken. They were delivered with great eloquence. Some things sounded so good I was tempted to rise to my feet and applaud. Many grand visions were laid out and lofty plans touted. But despite all the impressive talk, there was good reason to be skeptical, for as history has demonstrated time and time again, “the devil is always in the details.” So, despite how a part of me wants to be encouraged by the words I heard the president speak, I remain wary. As even politicians know, it’s one thing to talk of peace but it’s quite another to make peace. It’s one thing to talk about the necessity of getting our financial affairs in order but quite another to put oneself at political risk by making the tough choices on spending. And it’s one thing to talk about cooperating with your political opponents, and quite another thing to do the hard work of finding common ground and compromising. Still, most of us just can’t help being swayed by wonderful sounding words. Politicians know how true that is, which is why they take such care in fashioning the speeches they make to us. It’s also why it’s always so disappointing when, despite all the talk, the reality of ‘business as usual’ sinks in.

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Great-sounding words have been the eventual ruin of many a relationship. I’ve counseled many individuals over the years who’ve told me how completely swept off their feet they were in the initial stages of their relationship by all the wonderful-sounding words that emanated from their partner. Then, gradually, and over time, the reality of their partner’s ingrained behavior patterns became more evident and life changed from heaven on earth to a living hell. Words simply cannot be trusted, you see, especially in a character-impaired age. Behavior alone can be trusted (for good or for bad), and there’s even abundant scientific evidence supporting the notion that the best predictor of future conduct is past behavior. Someone’s words won’t really tell you what you can expect from them. But you can be sure their behavioral history will.

One of the behaviors I outlined in my first book, In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), as a common tactic to manipulate others, is seduction. While seduction can be accomplished through gestures as well as words, and in an infinite number of subtle ways, irresponsible characters often choose words over actions of any type to seduce because they’re so easy to say. And because we live in a markedly character-impaired age, one of the main pieces of advice I offer in Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?) is that folks stop listening so closely to what people say. When it comes to manipulative or other character-disturbed individuals, listening to them can be quite risky. If we simply listen and take what they say at face value, we’re likely to be swayed. And once the irresponsible character has our ear, we become more vulnerable to all sorts of possible relationship abuse. So, I advise folks to listen more carefully for the kinds of things people say as opposed to listening to (and tacitly accepting) what they say. That is, I advise them to listen for the subtle indications that a person is trying to curry favor without earning it (through action) or trying to promote a positive image of themselves without demonstrating a just basis for it (for more information, see my article on this site, “Seduction as a Manipulation Tactic”). You’d be surprised how different your view of things (and of a person) can become once you’ve stopped blindly listening to someone and become more astute at observing them (even ‘observing’ the character of their speech).

Most of us want to take someone at their word. And, when you’re dealing with a person of solid character, their word is more like a bond. That is, they feel obligated to back up their words with commensurate action. But unsavory characters will say anything to curry favor and to look good. That’s why it’s incumbent on those of us who don’t want to be taken in by someone to listen much more carefully and objectively to the things they say. And more than anything else, when it comes to really knowing the kind of person we’re dealing with, it’s important to focus less attention on the things they say to us, and to pay closer attention to the things they typically do.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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