The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

HR | COMMUNICATION

JULY 2014
Orange You Glad You Know the Power of Words?

What citrus fruit and sticky notes can teach us about communication

By Andrew Silberman



What can oranges teach us? The following story can change your life, or at least your words.

As you read the account (which is as true as I can accurately reconstruct it), take note of your reactions. Whether you’re amazed, skeptical or inspired, your reactions will teach you more than my conclusions. Here goes.

Two months ago, my wife conducted an experiment based on a TV program she had seen. She took two oranges and attached a sticky note to one, on which she wrote, “We love you! Thank you for coming to our house! You are so fresh.”

She attached another note to the second orange, on which she wrote, “You stupid. You’re useless. You stink. Get out of our house!”

She placed the oranges side by side on our living room cabinet. Three weeks into the experiment, I saw something remarkable.

One of the oranges appeared to be deteriorating. It started looking darker, dryer, and within a week, it was way beyond ready for the trash—splotches all over, mold growing on top, and a hard skin. The other orange still appeared edible, its skin the color of the fruit’s name.

Which orange was which? Stop for a moment and check your reaction. I’ve shared the story and photo with friends, colleagues, clients, and random folks; I’ll share a few of their comments here.

    Non-believers

Some people were skeptical—fortunately, only a few! These friends looked me in the eye and asked, “You didn’t just make this up?” When I assured them that everything happened as described, they fell into one of two categories: “scientific skeptics” and “scientific (or pseudo-scientific) believers”.

    Scientific skeptics and (pseudo-?)scientific believers

“You need to re-do the experiment, several times, double-blind, with controls …”

A friend went on to describe how he would do it. I should use three (or was it four?) oranges, a sticky note with a positive message, one with a negative phrase, and then either a blank or a neutral message. The notes should be placed in envelopes, presumably so that “not even the oranges would know” what message was placed on them.

Another reaction baffled me. Several people, including a Spanish executive, at first appeared skeptical, then they would say something like, “Wait. Is that all you did? You didn’t speak to the oranges?”

When I answered that yes, I had occasionally vocalized the written messages, several people said, “Oh, that explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“Well, it wasn’t the sticky note; it was your speaking. We all know that talking to plants helps them grow. So you didn’t prove anything.”

I wasn’t set on proving anything. I was observing my wife’s experiment. As the skeptics pointed out, this was not a scientific experiment; nevertheless, I did hear a couple of “scientific” explanations.

Many listeners nodded knowingly. Of course the oranges reacted that way, they said.

Energy can be directed, and everything and everyone is affected by energy. One Japanese author and journalist referenced Masaru Emoto, who proposed that human consciousness has an effect on the molecular structure of water.

This journalist explained that, since oranges have water in them, it makes sense that my wife’s messages would dry out the “negative” orange much faster than the positive one.

    Consequences

Why did one orange shrivel up so much quicker than the other, apparently reacting to the message placed on it?

Here’s the twist. Whenever I’ve shared this story, for some reason almost everyone latches on to the scientific or non-scientific nature of the experiment, rather than the consequences.

So let me ask you: if a simple written message can truly affect oranges this way, how might this insight change what you say to your clients, colleagues, and family?

In what other ways might it affect the way you communicate? Would you consider changing what you say to yourself?

One client said he knows why my wife did this: “She wants you to tell her how fresh and beautiful she is!” •

Andrew

Divider

Andrew Silberman is president and chief enthusiast of AMT Group (www.amt-group.com) and an elected governor of the ACCJ. Andrew@amt-group.com.

Divider