Chapter 14: When Words Really Matter: Why Some Are Simply Much More Persuasive Than Others
Sometimes a subtle change of words can reveal a truth not previously recognized. When you take care to find exactly the right word, the one that conjures up a whole new concept in people’s minds, you can expand horizons and achieve more.
When your followers believe they can achieve the impossible, they often do.
Your job is to persuade them both of the need to achieve, and their ability to do so. You achieve great things because of the way you make your followers feel.
Very often, you can change the way they feel, by changing the words you use.
Words really do matter, and no matter how much you hear about the mythical ‘55 per cent body language, 38 per cent tone of voice, 7 per cent actual words’ rule, forget it. Of course how you look and how you say things will influence how the message is received, but what you say really matters.
Having studied communication for more than 40 years, I have seen so many situations where a change of words in a sentence has had a dramatic impact on outcomes. Time after time, for example, I saw experiments in direct marketing achieve huge uplifts in response rates with just a simple change of word.
What were some of those powerful words?
YOU. A simple way of personalizing what you have to say and making people feel you’re talking directly to them. Probably the most powerful word in a leader’s arsenal, and second only to the name of the person to whom you’re speaking.
Another one, surprisingly, is BECAUSE.
The reason? To complete a sentence after the word ‘because’, you have to find a strong reason. Usually, you will be asking someone to take action, so the words after ‘because’ will have to contain a benefit statement, a WIFM (what’s in it for me?) And we know how much I love WIFMs! Every time you create a causal relationship it is incredibly persuasive, even when you give a weak reason. In fact, a weak reason will always be more persuasive than giving no reason at all.
Another one is AND instead of BUT. This one is a pet hate of mine. I am almost phobic about not using the word ‘but’. I will tell anyone prepared to listen that an apology never has a but in it. You can bet that when you say anything with a ‘but’ in it, the only thing that people hear will be the words that come after the ‘but’.
‘I think you did a great job with the new sales system, BUT it still needs some tweaks before it’s perfect.’ The person listening to you is guaranteed only to hear the need for more changes, and will completely miss the praise.
‘I am sorry about what I said yesterday, BUT you always make me angry when you don’t put the dishes away.’ This person will definitely not hear an apology, they will simply hear another attack.
Ban the word from your vocabulary and replace it with the word AND. It is SO much more effective.
For example, try this: ‘I think you did a great job with the new sales system, and I think a few more tweaks will make it even more efficient.’
Or this: ‘I am sorry about what I said yesterday, and in future I will try not to get so angry when you don’t put the dishes away.’
Both the sentences are vastly improved and far more likely to get a positive response.