The words we use every day shape our realities, whether we realize it or not. Our word choices can make a powerful impression on the people around us, whether they occur in a polite conversation at the grocery store or during a more formal exchange at a significant client meeting.
Different situations and different companions demand different levels of vocabulary and tone, but there are some words that hold power, no matter what the situation.
So, next time you’re pressing for something you want -- whether it's a salary increase or the last pineapple in the produce section -- here are 10 words that can help you get it:
“Because” is the conduit you will use to explain your motivations for every element of your request. In his book Influence, Robert Cialdini describes this as a “request + reason” and proves that this combination significantly increases the likelihood that your request will be obliged.
In one case study that I read in college (but, sadly, couldn’t find to link to here), one experiment had people ask if they could cut in line. The study found that people were far more likely to allow others to cut in line when the word "because" was used, as opposed to when it was not used (i.e., “May I cut in line?” vs. “May I cut in line, because I’m very late for an appointment?”). This was true even if the reason given was ridiculous (e.g., “May I please cut in line because I need to get to the front sooner?”). The word "because" seemed to trigger something in people that caused them to oblige the request.
A simple thanks is an expression of immediate gratitude, and if you start your conversation with it, you’ll start everything off on a good note. You’ll show that you’re appreciative, which will make people more interested and willing to help you out. Something like “thanks for your time” at the beginning of a meeting (or at the end) is all it takes to establish that positive tone.
When extending requests, too many people make it all about themselves. They'll say things like, “I want this because I need it,” explaining their personal motivations or the logical reasons why they want it. Instead, try framing the conversation in the perspective of the person you’re talking to.
How will your request affect them? For example, something like “I think you’ll see a rise in sales if you implement this,” makes your listener the center of the conversation, which makes for a more positive engagement.
“If” holds a ton of power because it gives you the opportunity to break a situation down to its most basic terms by exploring hypothetical outcomes. As long as you’ve done your research (or at least some brainstorming), you’ll come out in a good position. For example, consider: “If we go with option A, we’ll see increases in both cost and productivity, and if we go with option B, everything will remain the same.”
Using the word “could” implies openness, unlike the word “won’t” or “never.” This keeps the conversation positive, and further allows you to explore your hypothetical future outcomes, which is especially handy when your conversational partner has a counterargument or request for you. For example, “I could take on the extra work, but I’d prefer it if I had more flexibility on the deadline.”
Like the word “you,” “we” takes some of the focus off your own self-interest. As a first-line effect, this makes you seem less ego-centric and more welcoming. As a second-line effect, it implies that the two of you are a single unit, and that any positive benefit for you will be a positive benefit for them.
“Together” works much the same way that “we” does. It implies a degree of familiarity and cooperation, providing a kind of conversational lubricant to make your requests easier to swallow. Anything you can do to make your request (and hypothetical future) seem like a mutual opportunity is going to help you here.
The word “fact” can help you out significantly in your attempts at persuasion. There’s only one caveat -- the facts you claim have to be actual facts, supportable with empirical evidence or research of some kind. Still, using more facts in your dialogue will help you strengthen your position, and secure a more persuasive angle for your discussion.
During the conversation, you won’t agree with everything the other person tells you, and you won’t comply with every request. But shutting these requests down with a “no” or a “never” is negative and counterproductive. Instead, state that you’re “open” to the idea, but further negotiation will be required before you fully agree.
“Will” is the word we use to switch to future tense, and it’s a powerful word because it implies what happens after the conversation is over with a degree of certainty. Stating that you “will” do something as a direct action provides a clear vision and mitigates the possibility of miscommunication.
These ten words aren't magical, nor do they affect listeners at the level of mind control. But, used in the proper context, they can help you open the door to a meaningful and mutual negotiation. You’ll come across as more open, intelligent and persuasive, which means you’ll have an edge when you make your request.