“Using words that talk straight to the part of the brain that is free from maybes and responds on reflex gives you a fair advantage in conversation and can result in you getting your own way more often.”
How much better would your life be if you were more persuasive? What if you could meet or exceed your sales targets easily, masterfully negotiate for that raise or promotion, or easily convince your family or friends to agree with your point of view? If that sounds great, your next step should be to pick up Exactly What to Say by Phil M. Jones. In this short, compelling book, Jones provides practical tips to make your language more persuasive. Though the most direct application of his advice is likely in sales, the words that Jones recommends can be powerful triggers to help you get what you want more often—regardless of the application. The book is short enough to read in an hour or two, but the successful application of these simple principles will create lasting results.
The Big Idea
Use Magic Words
"Magic Words are sets of words that talk straight to the subconscious brain. The subconscious brain is a powerful tool in decision-making because it is preprogrammed through our conditioning to make decisions without overanalyzing them."
For some of us, convincing another person to make a decision in our favor can often feel like pushing a rope. For others, the art of persuasion seems to come naturally. Jones provides some helpful insights into the power that words can have on the subconscious mind, and practical tips for using language to be more persuasive. Jones argues that your aim shouldn’t be to to move a person from “no” to “yes”—rather, you should focus on turning a “maybe” into a decision. The tips are deceptively simple: small tweaks to language that can easily be woven into any conversation. However, simple does not mean easy—changing our long-established speech patterns requires deliberate attention. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that simple means small results—these tips and tricks could change everything about the way you get work done.
You can use these magic words to guide and direct the conversation. A couple of my favorite magic word questions from the book are:
How open-minded are you to [result of using your service/offering]?
What do you know about [our business, what’s changed in the industry recently, etc.]?
How would you feel if [paint a picture of success]?
When would be a good time [to speak next, get started, etc.]?
"For a decision to come true, you must have first at least imagined yourself doing it. Have you ever been in a situation in which you have said, or even just mouthed, these words back to somebody else: “I just couldn’t see myself doing that”?"
There’s a reason that stories are about as old as humans. As a species, we are hardwired for narrative: stories help us understand the world around us, empathize with others, analyze the past, and make decisions for the future.
Think back to the last time you accepted a new job, moved into a new house or apartment, or made a decision to change your life in a radical way. If you’re anything like me, you spent a lot of time imagining what your life would be like before you took action.
When you want someone to make a decision in your favor, whether it’s to purchase a product, collaborate with you, or simply to agree with your point of view, invoking their imagination can be a powerful trigger. By asking a person to imagine what success looks like, you can encourage them to enter an imaginative (and thus highly receptive) state. As Jones argues, “when you hear the words, “Just imagine,” the subconscious brain kicks a switch and opens up the image viewer, and it cannot help but picture the very scenario you are creating” (30).
Try this out at your next meeting. When you’re hoping to get a decision in your favor, use the sentence: “Just imagine… [fill in the blanks of what success will look like].”
Keep It Simple
"Roger realized he was doing everything wrong. He thought his obligation was to actually tell them how this stuff worked. He quickly realized his responsibility was not to give them the answer; it was to give them an answer, so he changed the way he answered the question. From that point onward, when customers asked him, “So, how does all this stuff work?” he would respond with the words, “It works great.”"
For many people (myself included), there is a common urge to dig into the details—especially for those that consider themselves experts on a particular topic. The last time that I upgraded my cell phone, I encountered this problem—the salesperson launched right into the specs of the phone, and used a lot of words and terms that I didn’t understand. And to be honest, gave a lot of details that I didn’t really care about. I just wanted to make sure that it had enough storage for a bunch of music and could run the apps I use for work without draining the battery—I just wanted to know that it would work when I needed it.
Especially for those selling technical products or services, big ticket items, or intangibles—the urge to dive right into details is strong. However, it’s often much more effective to resist the urge to geek out on the details, and keep responses at a very high level.
Keep it simple: what is the outcome you’re trying to solve for? Remember that people typically make decisions based on feelings, with logic coming second. Keep your answers to questions as high-level as possible, and avoid the temptation to dive deep into the details. Nine times out of ten, your prospect just wants to know that you’re presenting a solution to their problem (and of course, for the tenth person, you should know what you’re selling or proposing like the back of your hand, so that you can provide the technical details they want—but treat that like the exception, not the rule).
Exactly What To Say is a small book that packs a big punch. You’ll want to keep it close by—it’s not one to read and then forget on your bookshelf. Practice your magic words daily. Try them out on different people and in different situations.
For more great insight into the power of language, check out our podcast episode with Phil Jones, Becoming a Professional Mind-Maker-Upper.