Jonah Berger: Magic Words, What to Say to Get Your Way | E218
Jonah Berger: Magic Words, What to Say to Get Your Way | E218
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[00:01:54] Jonah Berger: Whether you like Trump or you hate Trump, you can't deny that. He's done an amazing job of selling his [00:02:00] ideas. Even if you don't like his ideas, he got a whole bunch of people to support those ideas. Why? You'll notice he does the same thing that great salespeople do. He does the same thing that great entrepreneurs do.
[00:02:10] He does the same thing that gurus do. Which is that he speaks with a great deal of certainty. We all hedge all the time, might, could possibly, seems all of these are words that indicate some level of uncertainty. And while it's good to use these words, sometimes they undermine our impact. And if our goal is for other people to listen to us, we gotta stop hedging so much we hedge without even thinking about it.
[00:02:36] Those hedges are hurting our ability to persuade.
[00:02:44] Hala Taha: What is up Young and Profiteers. You are listening to YAP, Young and Profiting podcast, where we interview the brightest minds in the world, and unpack their wisdom into actionable advice that you can use in your daily life. I'm your host, Hala Taha. [00:03:00] Thanks for tuning in and get ready to listen. Learn and profit.
[00:03:16] Welcome to Young and Profiting Podcast, Jonah.
[00:03:18] Jonah Berger: Thanks so much for having me back.
[00:03:20] Hala Taha: I am excited. YAP fam. Jonah Berger is a Wharton School professor. He's also the best-selling author of Contagious, Invisible Influence, The Catalyst, and his most recent release is called Magic Words. He's a world renowned expert on natural language processing, change, word of mouth influence, consumer behavior, and why things catch on.
[00:03:38] He's published articles in top tier academic journals. He's keyed hundreds of major conferences, and he's also consulted for household name brands like Apple, Google, and Nike. We had Jonah on the show in episode number 158, Change Anyone's Mind. We discussed how to change anyone's behavior and we learned about Jonah's come up story.
[00:03:57] It was one of my favorite conversations of last year, [00:04:00] so be sure to go back and check it out. In this episode, we're gonna break down Jonah's newest book Magic Words. We're gonna dive deep into how to persuade, communicate, and connect, and we'll cover the different types of words that can increase your impact in every area of life.
[00:04:13] So Jonah, let's dive straight into it. Whether we're trying to persuade a client, motivate a team, or even just talk to our peers, words are powerful. They're how leaders lead, salespeople sell, parents parent. And in your latest book, magic Words, you say, by some estimates, we use around 16,000 words a day. So tell us why are words so magical?
[00:04:34] Jonah Berger: In anything we want to do, we use language. If we're a salesperson, we're trying to turn a prospect into a client. If we're a leader and we're trying to motivate or get a team to do something in our personal lives if we're going on a date, if we're talking to a spouse or partner or child. We use language to convey whatever we want to communicate.
[00:04:52] We spend a lot of time thinking about the big stuff. We wanna talk about the topics or ideas. If I'm getting up in front of a company, for [00:05:00] example, I might say This is what I want to get across. Or if I'm on a date, I might wanna make myself seem a certain way. But while we seem and think a lot about the topics we want to communicate. We think a lot less about the individual words we use to communicate them.
[00:05:13] And that's actually a mistake because subtle shifts in the language we use can have a huge impact. As I talk about in the book, research shows that adding just a certain particular word to a request can make people 50% more likely to say yes. Research I and my own colleagues have done that, found that rather than saying you like something, saying you recommend. It makes people around a third more likely to take your suggestion.
[00:05:35] And a variety of other research shows that the language we use in email predicts whether we're gonna get promoted or fired. The language we use when applying for a loan predicts whether we're gonna default on that loan or pay the money back. And the language other people use can give us insight into whether they're telling the truth or what type of person they are.
[00:05:51] And so across every domain of our lives. Language is a powerful tool we can use both to influence others, impact others. As well as make [00:06:00] our ourselves better off. And so if we understand the power of magic words, we can use them more effectively.
[00:06:04] Hala Taha: I'm super excited for this topic because I feel like it's relatable for everyone.
[00:06:08] Like everybody can use this skill and there's so much to learn.
[00:06:12] Jonah Berger: Everybody uses words.
[00:06:13] Hala Taha: Everybody uses words. And then also just the fact that it's just these little tweaks, and some of them are obvious and some of them are really not obvious. And so I'm so excited to get like through some of these gems and really dig deeper.
[00:06:25] Let's start with how you were inspired to write this book. So I was reading your book and you mentioned your son Jasper's, first magical words was peace, and that really sparked your interest in terms of the power of words. Tell us about this story and if that inspired to write that your book or what inspired you.
[00:06:44] Jonah Berger: So I've been working in this space for the last 10 years or so, and we now are able to study language in ways we couldn't before, right? So we've always used language. Language isn't new, but now everything is transcribed and recorded. We share opinions online o on social media. We talk [00:07:00] like we're talking now, and these conversations can be transcribed, whatever language we use.
[00:07:05] Is now available to researchers to analyze and there are all sorts of computational tools, machine learning and otherwise that allow us to analyze these things. And so the past 10 or 15 years I, in my academic work have been studying language. We've looked at hundreds of conversations thousands of sales pitches and startup pitches, and tens of thousands of piece of content to understand what makes language more effective.
[00:07:27] But I really saw it at a personal level. With my sons. As I was mentioning a few years ago our first child Jasper was born and around a year or so old, he started saying the word peace. And what he really meant was the word please, but he didn't have his Ls yet. So it came out sounding like peas.
[00:07:43] And the fact he was using peas by itself is not that surprising by his age kids often have a number of different words that they used, but what was super neat to me is the way he would use this word. He had a variety of things he might want yo, for yogurt, brow bear, for brown, bear up, for when he wanted to [00:08:00] be picked up and he would use one of these words to alert you that he wanted that thing.
[00:08:03] So if he wanted yogurt, he might say yo, or if he wanted Brown bear, he might say Brow bear. But what he had noticed is if you didn't jump up right away to do what he wanted. He would add the word pease at the end. So he would look, he was dead in the eye and say, you peace and shake his head. Yes.
[00:08:20] And what was so neat to me about this he learned more words, right? So even last week he was going, dad, you asked me to do this, but you weren't specific enough. I was like, where did you learn the word specific? You're five, almost six years old. How do you know that word? So he obviously now at this point knows a lot more language, but.
[00:08:34] I loved Pease because it was really the first time he realized that language had power. That if he didn't get what he wanted, he could use this word, this particular magic word, pease, and he'd be more likely to get it. And so that's just one example, but these magic words around us in all aspects of our lives.
[00:08:51] And so it was really a great example to me of, wow, if we pay attention to these words, if we use them a little bit differently, we can increase our own impact.
[00:08:58] Hala Taha: And I love what you were saying [00:09:00] before you were sharing the story. You were mentioning that you guys have studied so many conversations, so many things online, content pieces.
[00:09:06] Can you talk to us about how technology has enabled us to really analyze language nowadays?
[00:09:11] Jonah Berger: So let me give you an example. So we did an analysis recently looking at tens of thousands of pieces of online content. So imagine news articles, imagine blog posts, whatever it is. And we don't just have what was written. We have how far down that content consumers, readers actually read.
[00:09:27] And this is amazing. We've always read newspapers and magazines, but there's no data looking at how far down people read. But as content creators, we all wanna know first, how do we get attention? Second of all, how do we hold it, right? If we're gonna post something on social media, how do we get people to pay attention to it?
[00:09:41] If we're going to send out emails. How do we get people to open them? But then second, once they've taken a look at our social post or opened our email, are they actually gonna read it or not? For most of us, we don't just want them to open the email and just click on our social posts. We want them to actually pay attention to the content for that content to have impact.
[00:09:58] And We got access to over a [00:10:00] million read events of these tens of thousands of pieces of content, and how far down people read, and we used natural language processing to look at styles of language that shaped that outcome. And so I talked some of this in the emotions chapter in the certainty chapter, but they're now all these tools. What are called natural language processing tools are.
[00:10:17] Automated textual analysis that allows us to parse language data for insight rather than having to read each of those articles, which would take me a lot of time. The computer can essentially sift through that massive data and look for statistical six al patterns, not only using dictionaries or topic modeling, but also word embeddings and other techniques.
[00:10:36] Some using machine learning, some not to leverage that data and look for insight. And so it's a powerful way to allow us to uncover. Things that have always been there, but we've never been able to see it.
[00:10:47] Hala Taha: That's so exciting. So you have a new book called Magic Words and you uncover six different types of words that can make us more impactful, more persuasive.
[00:10:55] We're obviously not gonna get through them all. We just have an hour together. But I [00:11:00] thought a good warmup question would be to talk about the word because. So from my understanding, there was a study from the 1970s using a copy machine in the library at the City University of New York. And the scientists who were conducting this study, they were trying to figure out what drives persuasion and actions.
[00:11:16] And they found out that using the word because can really influence behavior. So I thought this could be a good warmup question so people can start to understand the power of subtle changes in your words.
[00:11:26] Jonah Berger: And because it's just one simple word, but this speaks to a broader question, which is often we're hoping that someone else will do something that we'd like them to do.
[00:11:35] As an entrepreneur or a salespeople salesperson, we're trying to convince someone to, to buy something or use something. As a startup founder, we might be trying to convince people to fund us or work for us. As a boss, we're trying to motivate employees. As a colleague, we're trying to get support for our initiative as a, in our personal lives, we're trying to convince people all the time. How can we be, we'd be better at it.
[00:11:55] And so there was a study that was done, as you nicely mentioned, in the sort of seventies. Where they went up to people at a [00:12:00] copy machine, and I know no one uses copy machines anymore, but they went up to someone at a copy machine and they basically interrupted them and asked to make copies.
[00:12:08] And not surprisingly, most people said no. And if you're in the middle of doing something, someone walks up to you and says, Hey, can I use the copy machine? Most people would say no. And so they wondered what could we use language to make people more likely to say yes? And so for some set of people, they just went up and said, Hey, can I interrupt you and make copies?
[00:12:23] For another set of people, they came in and said, Hey, can I interrupt you? Make copies because, and then they gave a reason. And what they found is the people used the word because other people were 50% more likely to say yes, to agree, to let them interrupt the what they were doing and have someone else do something.
[00:12:40] And you could say but hold on. That's not just about the word. Because there's more there. There's the because, and then there's the reason. I'm actually working on a piece right now for the Wall Street Journal, where the editor came back and said it's not the word because it's the reason, right?
[00:12:53] But here's what's interesting for a third set of people they used because, and they used a terrible reason. So they said, Hey, I'd like to [00:13:00] interrupt you making copies because I'd like to make some copies. The thing after the, because was empty. I want to interrupt you because of course you need to make copies.
[00:13:08] That's why you're asking the first place. And yet because still had that impact still increased the percentage of people who said yes by about 50%. And so it's not just the reason, and I'm not saying the reason never matters. Obviously it matters sometimes, but just using that word because makes it seem like there is a reason, and even if that reason isn't great.
[00:13:26] People are more likely to go along. And so that's just one example of the power of words. If we get to it, I could even talk about some examples, where even just shifting a couple letters can increase our impact, but that's a simple thing we can do to increase our influence.
[00:13:40] Hala Taha: Let's get into that.
[00:13:40] Let's talk about the importance of changing things to verbs noun to verbs. I know that's really important and that's your first bucket of words. It's called Activate Identity and Agencies, your first category of words outta the six types of words that you call magical words. And so you mentioned a study where scientists ask a group of four and five year old [00:14:00] kids to tidy up a room.
[00:14:01] And some of them just asked them to help and some of them referred to these kids as helpers. And apparently changing a noun to a verb can have really big impacts. So talk to us about that.
[00:14:11] Jonah Berger: So backing up for just a second, as you talked about, there's sound of six key buckets or words that I talk about in the book.
[00:14:17] And to help us remember what those buckets are, I put 'em in an acronym and that's SPEAC. And S P E A C wasn't clever enough to come up with a K, though as somebody pointed out, K is always the tough letter in scrabble. So I don't feel so bad. But the S stands for the language of similarity and difference.
[00:14:35] The P is the language of posing questions. The E is the language of emotion. The A, as you just mentioned is words that evoke identity and agency is the A and then the CS are the language of confidence and the language of concreteness. And so let's dive in as you said, to the language of agency.
[00:14:52] And as you mentioned, there's this great study that asks people for help and in some ways it's. Like the copier study and that we're trying to get people to do something. In that case [00:15:00] they're trying to get, four and five years old to clean up a room, and so a bunch of stuff on the floor, books, crayons, all sorts of different things.
[00:15:06] They're trying to get the kids to clean up. Some kids, they ask them to help. Can you help clean up, as we often would do, and other kids, they say, Hey, can you be a helper? Now to put a pin in it, the difference between help and helpers is really small, right? It's not a completely different word. It's only adding two letters on the end of the same word, right?
[00:15:22] Helper is help inside it with the words. Letters E are at the end, but that led to a 30% increase in students likelihood of helping. And it wasn't just kids in a classroom. Similar things had been found with adults. So a few years ago, there was a study published in the Proceedings or the National Academy of Sciences where they tried to get more people to vote.
[00:15:41] And obviously we all know that we should vote, yet we don't always. And so they sent notes out to people saying, Hey, please go vote for some people. Go vote the verb vote. And for other people they said, be a voter. And again, the difference between Vote and voter is infinitesimally small. There it's only one letter adding an r to the end of the word vote.[00:16:00]
[00:16:00] Yet it led to about a 15% increase in people's likelihood of turning out. And so you might say why? Why did this subtle difference matter so much? And the key insight here is about turning actions into identities. And what do I mean by that? Voting is an action. Helping is an action.
[00:16:16] We, there are many actions that people ask us to do or take all the time, and we know we should vote and we know we should help, but we're pretty busy, so we don't always take those actions. But what we care about more than actions are identities. We care a lot about how we see ourselves and how other people see us.
[00:16:33] We want to be seen as attractive and smart and athletic, and knowledgeable and all these different things. And so if actions are an opportunity to claim desired identities, to show ourselves and others that we hold those identities. Now we're much more likely to take that action. Helping sure.
[00:16:48] It's a good thing. But as if helping is an opportunity to be a helper. Now I'm much more likely to help out similarly voting. I know I'm supposed to vote, but I'm so busy. Hold on. If voting is an opportunity to be a voter, I'm much more likely [00:17:00] to do it. And so one way to, to motivate people to actions is to turn those actions.
[00:17:04] Into identities rather than asking people to lead, ask 'em to be a leader. They're much more likely to do those things because it seems more permanent. Same thing is true on the negative side, losing is bad. Being a loser is much worse. Cheating on a test, cheating on a test is bad, but being a cheater is much worse.
[00:17:21] And so when we want people not to do something, framing those negative things as identities makes people less likely to do them. There's you guys remember, made me remember the campaign. Don't be a litterbug. We all know we shouldn't litter. But being a litterbug that's a really negative thing.
[00:17:34] I'm less likely to do it. And so this can even impact how we see ourselves. If I told you about two people. I have one friend who runs, and another friend who is a runner, who would you say runs more often?
[00:17:45] Hala Taha: The runner.
[00:17:46] Jonah Berger: The runner, right? It's a stable part of it's an identity. If someone says they drink coffee, once in a while they have a cup of coffee.
[00:17:51] They're a coffee drinker. It must be who they are. And so we wanna make, motivate ourselves. Let's use those identity labels, right? I'm a runner's gonna make me [00:18:00] run more often, rather than talking about oneself as creating things. I think YouTube and other platforms have done a good job of turning into a name.
[00:18:07] You're a creator. That sounds like a stable, a job. You're not just innovative, you're an innovator. When we're describing ourselves on a resume. Don't just say, We're hardworking. We're a hard worker. It seems much more permanent, just like a runner's more permanent than running, and so people think we're much like a follow through on what we've suggested.
[00:18:24] Hala Taha: Let's hold that thought and take a quick break with our sponsors.
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[00:21:16] This is so interesting and I feel like it can be applied in so many ways of life. Marketing materials to motivate your team. As you're talking to customers, like you said, to motivate yourself. There's so many ways that we can apply this and it's such like adding two letters to a word can like make all the difference.
[00:21:33] It's just so surprising.
[00:21:35] Jonah Berger: It is. And I think it relies on the behavioral science of identity. And you started by talking about nouns and verbs and I know that's how I talk about in the book, but I try not to say nouns and verb. Cuz let me tell you. I don't even always remember exactly what a noun is and what a verb is with this.
[00:21:48] You have actions and identities. I think it's clear to us. We all have desired identities and undesired identities, but by framing things as identities rather than actions, we can be helpful. Even I was just talking to someone who said, I use this all the [00:22:00] time. When I talk to people who are disappointed.
[00:22:02] So if somebody loses, they might think they're a loser. Somebody fails, they might think they're a failure as who they are. And instead I say, look, you're not a failure. You just failed this one time. You gotta get up and try again. You're not a loser. You just lost this particular game. I coach kids soccer on the side.
[00:22:17] And so when talking to kids or talking to members of your team, if it's a negative thing, don't frame it as that identity. Frame it as more as an action, a thing that happened. As less persistent, we'll make them more motivated.
[00:22:27] Hala Taha: I love that. So like positive things. You want it to be part of an identity so that people can align to it and do more of the positive actions.
[00:22:34] Negative things, you wanna make it seem like it's a point in time. It's not who you are, it's just happened. I love that.
[00:22:39] Jonah Berger: States and traits, positive things are traits. They're persistent. Negative things are states they happened, but it's not who you are.
[00:22:45] Hala Taha: Love that. Okay, so let's talk about the words I don't versus I can't, what do we need to know about that?
[00:22:51] Jonah Berger: So often when we're trying to stick to our goals whether it's a goal to lose weight, whether it's a goal to exercise more, whether it's a goal to [00:23:00] spend less time on a particular app or doing a particular thing, often there's temptation. We're not a diet, and someone will say, do you want some chocolate cake, or do you want to go out and grab some pizza?
[00:23:08] And often we wanna say no, but how should we say no? And there's a great professor named is Vanessa Patrick. And she has a book coming out, I think in the next six months or so, all about better ways to say No. And she has some great research on it. And she shows that if you ask people rather than saying, I can't do something. Would you like some chocolate cake?
[00:23:25] No I can't, saying I don't. Don't eat chocolate cake rather than I can't eat chocolate cake. I don't eat chocolate cake makes us much more likely to stick to our goals. If you're trying to, work on something. Not, I can't go out Friday night, but I don't, I'm not gonna go out this weekend.
[00:23:40] Don't rather than can't work cuz it makes us feel in control. Can't, sounds external. I can't do this because this external thing is getting in the way. If you had to fill in the blanks, I didn't do whatever because I can't or I don't. Can't, things are often external. I can't eat the cake because I'm on a diet.
[00:23:58] I can't go to the party because I need to [00:24:00] finish some work, right? It suggests you wanna go to the party, you want to eat the cake, but this external thing is preventing you. Whereas if you say, I don't, now you feel more in control. The agency that A, in the framework. It's your agency. I don't eat chocolate cake.
[00:24:13] I don't go out when I've gotta finish a project. This is who I am. I'm in the driver's seat, I'm in control. And so I feel more powerful and it helps me stick with the things I want to do already. And even a subtle shift here, again, one word, can't versus don't, can impre impact our success in our own goals.
[00:24:30] Hala Taha: And I think it makes sense because it's essentially you're in alignment with your values. You have this value, and you don't do this value. It's not because it's the wrong timing or it's because this person asks, or it's the situation. It's your value that you don't break no matter what. So I can't imagine that would make you feel more powerful and confident if you stick to your values.
[00:24:49] Jonah Berger: I love the way you said it in terms of value. I was really recently dealing with a consulting client that, asked me to do something and I was thinking about this can't versus don't, and I was gonna say, I can't, or we can't. And then I was like, you know what? [00:25:00] Actually we don't, or I don't.
[00:25:01] It's just much, this is how it is. These are the guidelines we live by. This is what is possible and this is what isn't. And it makes me feel more certain in myself, but it also makes clear look. It's not about you, it's not about this specific time. It's about who we are as an organization. And so it's often much more effective.
[00:25:18] Hala Taha: Okay. I'm gonna read a quote from your book you write, although 60% of CEOs in one study said that creativity is the most important leadership quality, 75% of people think they're not living up to their creative potential. So please talk to us about how we can become more creative by fostering a good mindset, instead of a should mindset.
[00:25:38] Jonah Berger: This is, again, something that happens to us all the time. I'll be working on a project and I'm stuck, right? I'll be working on a chapter of a book or a paper or a solution for a consulting client, and I'm not sure which way to go. I'm not sure what to come up with. I do some brand naming work.
[00:25:52] I can't come up with a name or I'm doing some marketing consulting work. I need to think about the right way to apply the strategy, and I'm stuck. And this happens to us all the [00:26:00] time, right? Clearly happens at work, regardless of what role we have. It also happens in our personal lives. Sometimes, we're trying to make a tough decision and we're stuck.
[00:26:06] And problem solving is difficult. It's difficult to be creative, particularly under, under pressure. But as you noted, it turns out that, again, a shift in just one word can increase our effectiveness. There was a nice study out of Harvard Harvard Business School, where they brought people in and asked them to sell, solve a tough problem.
[00:26:22] And for some people, they ask 'em to think about what they should do. And this is how we solve problems all the time, right? We often ask ourselves, What should I do? I'm choosing between two jobs. Which one should I take? I'm considering two apartments. Which one should I go with? I'm two strategies.
[00:26:37] Which ones should I do? And so half the people took that traditional approach for the other half. They changed just one word. They said, instead of thinking about what you should do. Think about what you could do, and they found that for people in this could group, the second bucket, not only did they come up with more creative ideas, but they came up with more effective ideas overall, and could, works for a couple reasons.
[00:26:58] First, basically widens [00:27:00] the possibilities. We're not just thinking about, okay, what? What's that one right answer should often narrows us, right? Which should I do? There's one right answer could widens us what's possible, and even if all those things that are possible aren't the best idea. It's not the best thing to choose at the end.
[00:27:13] By thinking about those possibilities. It helps us come up with a better answer. And so whether we're talking to a team and they're facing a tough problem, rather than saying, Hey guys, think about what you should do. Let's think about what we could do before we come up with a final solution.
[00:27:24] Or for ourselves, right? When we're thinking about it, okay. What could I do? I could do this. Thinking about those options will help us reach better solutions.
[00:27:32] Hala Taha: I really like that advice because basically could, enables us to release like all the resource constraints, right? You don't think about like the money or the people involved or the time involved.
[00:27:41] You're just like, okay, what could I do to solve this problem? And then you can think about the what's good or bad resource-wise and where you wanna spend your time. So I think that's great advice. Okay, so let's move on to confidence. Okay, so you have a second category of magic words. Words that convey confidence.
[00:27:58] And I'm a [00:28:00] speaker myself, so I understand that displaying confidence is really important and making sure that you speak with power is really important. And Trump is somebody who people love and hate, right? But at the end of the day, he was an impactful speaker. That's why he went from being somebody that everybody hated to becoming president.
[00:28:18] So talk to us about what Trump did effectively with his persuasion and speech.
[00:28:23] Jonah Berger: Just as you said, I think about this a lot as a communicator. We're all communicators in one way or another, whether we're standing up in front of a room and pitching our idea. Whether we're standing up on a stage and talking to an audience, whether we're talking to one person and trying to get them to support our idea. We're often communicating things and we all have someone in our lives who's really charismatic.
[00:28:43] Whenever they talk, other people listen. I wish I was this person. I'm not this person, but I can definitely think of two people in my own life that are this way. And What do they do that makes other people listen? When they open their mouths, everybody listens. How does that work? And so in the book I talk about Donald Trump, and I don't wanna get into politics, but whether you [00:29:00] like Trump or you hate Trump. You can't deny that he's done an amazing job of selling his ideas, right?
[00:29:05] If you like him and you like his ideas, fantastic. How did he make it work? And even if you hate him, even more reason to figure out even if you don't like his ideas, he got a whole bunch of people to support those ideas. Why? What did he do to get people to support those ideas? And if you look closer, there's a speech he made.
[00:29:19] For example, when I think he announced his initial president run where he said something like, if elected I'm gonna build a wall, it'll build a great wall and I'll do it very cheaply. And we don't have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but now we don't take China and our trade deals, losing on this trade deal.
[00:29:36] I beat China all the time. And he had this speech talking about his different ideas and it was met with different responses depending on political beliefs, but at least some people said, look it's overly simplistic, it's bluster. There's nothing there yet. A year later, He was elected president.
[00:29:51] And so even if you feel like there's nothing there, he clearly did something right. What is that thing? And if you look closer, you'll notice he does the same thing that great [00:30:00] salespeople do. He does the same thing that great entrepreneurs do. He does the same thing that gurus do, which is that he speaks with a great deal of certainty.
[00:30:09] What do I mean by certainty? Certain things are obvious. The answer is clear. This will definitely work. This is absolutely true. Everyone agrees with X, Y, Z, right? He uses certain language to communicate his points and there's been some research that shows the benefit of certain language work on financial advisors, for example, shows that hey, people are much more likely to pick an advisor that speaks with greater certainty even when that person.
[00:30:34] Is not clearly right. They're right an equal amount of the time. The fact that they speak with more certainty makes people wanna work with them more. Why? Because regardless if someone's right or not, the fact that they speak with so much certainty. It's hard not to believe they could be right. Cuz they seem so sure, they seem so clearly sure of what they're saying.
[00:30:51] They must be right, I should go along. Contrast that with what most of us do most of the time. And I am guilty of this, more than anybody. When I work with consulting clients, [00:31:00] someone will say, what do you think about this strategy? Or what's the right direction? And I'll say something like, I think that's a good idea.
[00:31:06] This might work. It seems like this could be a good possibility. I use what are called hedges and we all hedge all the time. Might, could, possibly, seems. All of these are words that indicate some level of uncertainty. And while it's good to use these words, sometimes they undermine our impact often without intending to, by using these words.
[00:31:28] We make ourselves less persuasive. We looked at hundreds of thousands of online reviews, for example, and a variety of different types of social interactions, and we found them more people hedge. The less likely other people are to listen to them. And the reason why is well, people sit there going, Hey, look, you don't seem confident in what you're saying and if you are not even confident in it, why should I follow your advice?
[00:31:47] And so as communicators, first of all, and I talk about a few different strategies in the book, but at least one is we gotta ditch the hedges. If we're trying to communicate uncertainty, that's fine. But if our goal is for other people to listen to us, then we gotta stop hedging so [00:32:00] much. Often we hedge without even thinking about it.
[00:32:02] But those hedges are hurting our ability to persuade.
[00:32:05] Hala Taha: This reminds me so much of, I had Kelly Roach on the show, and she talks about conviction marketing and the importance of having convictions in your marketing marketplace, and really standing by them. And this reminds me a lot about it because if you're an expert, and you don't strongly believe in what you're saying or doing, and you're speaking in this way, like I think this might be, or in my opinion. It's like you either believe this is a way for people or not, especially when you're trying to be an expert or a thought leader.
[00:32:30] No one's gonna follow you, if you're uncertain about what you're saying to begin with. So you need to just believe in what the advice you're giving and say it strongly.
[00:32:38] Jonah Berger: I think that's exactly right and the only thing I would add is sometimes people say, what if I am uncertain? What if it's not clear, what the answer is?
[00:32:44] What I like to talk about there is let's own the uncertainty, right? Like when a consulting client asks me for advice. I have a strategy I think is best, but there's often some uncertainty about how they'll implement it. Let me call that out. I think this, rather than saying, I don't know. I'm not sure.
[00:32:57] I think this strategy might work. Why not say [00:33:00] I think this is the best strategy, but for it to work. We need to do these three things. For this to happen. These other things need to occur. I'm really certain about what needs to occur for this to work, but I'm not saying I'm uncertain about the strategy itself.
[00:33:12] I'm very certain about the strategy. And I'm certain about what we need to do to make it work. And so by owning that uncertainty. We can in some sense both indicate that, some things have to happen. But it's not that we don't think it's achievable. We do think it is, we need everybody else to get on board.
[00:33:28] Hala Taha: That makes sense. So my next question is, not in your book necessarily. I had Robert Greene on the show. I'm sure you know who he is. He was one of the first interviews that I ever had on the show, and one of my first viral episodes we talked about is 48 Laws of Power. And he is got this law number four, and it's always say less than necessary.
[00:33:45] And his logic is that if you can't control your words, you can't control yourself. The more you say, the more stupid you may appear. And he also says, That if you wanna sound really profound and smart, you should be really simple and [00:34:00] vague and open-ended and stinks. And even if something's obvious and boring, if you are really vague when you say it and succinct, people will believe you more because they'll try to be like a mind reader.
[00:34:09] What does he really mean with what he is saying? So do you have any thoughts about that? Like all this research that you've done with magic words, agree or disagree? I know Robert came out with his book a long time ago.
[00:34:18] Jonah Berger: So I would say a few things and the main thing is I try not to have opinions.
[00:34:22] I try just to look at data. When I write a book and I know there've been many language books written before, I try to say, here's the academic research. Here's what it shows. And to be clear, not every type of language is good in every situation, right? Even take the language of certainty. Research shows that when we're trying to get somebody who disagrees with us strongly to meet in the middle.
[00:34:42] Sometimes it's actually better to show a little bit of a uncertainty there because it makes them feel like we're open to opposing viewpoints, and because they feel like we're open to opposing viewpoints. They're more likely to listen to what we have to say as a result. And so sometimes the answer is, it depends.
[00:34:55] It depends on a couple of things. I think to what you mentioned that he suggested. [00:35:00] I think there's certainly times where being simpler in our language is better. I think though, that there's a difference between simplicity and shortness. And let me give you an example. So often when I work with clients about making messaging simpler. They say let's just cut down the number of words.
[00:35:16] So they still say, there are four things you need to know, or 17 things you need to know, but now I'm gonna give each one a sentence, rather than five sentences. And I often say hold on, we've cut the length down. But it's equally complicated. We haven't reduced the complication. And so making things simple is really not just about shortening them, but relentlessly prioritizing.
[00:35:36] Particularly if you're trying to figure out what your value proposition is as a company. Not saying we do nine different things, but saying what's the most important one? Sure there's a second most and a third one, but let's rank them. And it's not that the ninth most important isn't important, but it's the ninth most important, which means it's less important than the eighth and the seventh and so on.
[00:35:53] And so that relentless prioritization helps us when we have to be simple, say let's just focus on the most important thing because we [00:36:00] can't focus on everything. And so I completely agree that being simple is key. I think sometimes short can be confused for simple, and they're actually two separate things.
[00:36:08] Hala Taha: 100%. And I know that people can't remember a whole lot, give or take five. Five or seven things right? So making sure that your points are succinct are definitely important.
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[00:38:51] Okay, so let's continue on in terms of understanding confidence here. So let's talk about using less filler words. [00:39:00] You say that we shouldn't hesitate. A lot of us are used to saying ums, as, you knows, that's right. Why shouldn't we use these filler words? And do you have any advice in terms of how to get rid of them?
[00:39:09] Cuz I think a lot of us have this problem.
[00:39:12] Jonah Berger: Someone was talking to me recently about this and they said the challenge with the language of confidence is that sometimes it can come off badly. And so they made the point, look, if you're an older white male, maybe when you seem confident that's good, but maybe when you're a younger and non-white female, maybe it's a little bit harder for confidence to be digested.
[00:39:29] If I'm a young person in office and I'm a young woman, maybe my older colleagues don't want me to seem. Overly confident. And I said, I completely agree when it comes to hedges, right? And sometimes speaking too directly and removing hedges can seem too confident. But I disagree when it comes to fillers, and that is that many of us fill conversational space.
[00:39:48] We say and by removing those things it's an easy way, to make people like us more and think we're more professional. It's hard often to see our use of fillers when we speak. I do it all the time. When you ask [00:40:00] a great question, might sit there going like buying myself time as I'm thinking.
[00:40:03] But when we see it on paper, we go, oh my God. Look at these things. I was working with a a coaching client and their salesperson, and we were having these interactions over Zoom cuz it was during the pandemic. And eventually Zoom came out with this new feature, that would allow you to get a transcript of that conversation.
[00:40:18] And we're trying to figure out why the sales pitch wasn't working. And when you looked at the transcript, it was just painfully obvious. Every other sentence, there was an or an and it's just a bump in the conversational flow. And so let's get rid of those fillers, right? Rather than just saying it because it's easy.
[00:40:31] Pause for a second. And I, to the earlier comment about being short and concise, being powerful. I think pausing can be really powerful. I'm bad at this, terrible at this myself, but if you look at folks like great speakers like Barack Obama or others, he often uses pauses for a really powerful effect, right?
[00:40:49] Pausing can be a great way to show that you're thinking to provide emphasis. And so rather, if you need to think, no problem, right? We often need to think, but let's think through pausing rather than filling it in with [00:41:00] something, that makes us not look as good as a result.
[00:41:03] Hala Taha: And the other thing I would say is listen to yourself.
[00:41:05] A lot of people, I don't think take the time to actually listen to what they sound like on a presentation or on a podcast episode or whatever it is. Like even if it's painful, even if you hate listening to your voice, go back, record yourself and listen to yourself. So one more question on confidence, then we're gonna go onto questions.
[00:41:21] Let's talk about the importance of using the present tense. I thought this was a really cool hack.
[00:41:25] Jonah Berger: So think about something that's happened. So a job candidate comes into the office and you can say they seemed good or they seem good. You come back from a vacation, you can say the beach was beautiful, or the beach is beautiful.
[00:41:38] Many times we describe things using past tense, what happened? And it turns out using present tense is more persuasive. When we say the food was good, it makes it seem like at that particular point in time that experience I had, the food was good. If I say the food is good, it says, wait a second.
[00:41:52] It is good for all time and everyone else will have a good experience as well. And so using present tense, showcases the [00:42:00] certainty that we have makes other people feel like we're more certain and makes them more likely to listen to us as a result.
[00:42:06] Hala Taha: I feel like this theme of certainty is just popping up with this confidence section.
[00:42:11] All right, let's talk about the third category, asked the right question. So I had Robert Cialdini on the show, he's known as the Godfather of Influence and Persuasion, and he talked about something that you also talk about in your book, which is the importance of asking for advice.
[00:42:25] And a lot of people are scared to ask for advice because they think it's gonna make them look stupid and competent, but actually it has the adverse effect. So talk to us about the importance of asking questions and asking for advice.
[00:42:37] Jonah Berger: I'm, again, guilty of this as anybody else is, but I think often we're worried if we ask for advice, we'll bother someone.
[00:42:43] They won't be able to answer what we have, or even, we're still thinking negatively of us, right? They'll say something, why don't you know the answer yourself? So we think that asking for advice is a bad idea, but it turns out that it's not. There's some very nice research out of Harvard University that had a bunch of people have different social interactions.[00:43:00]
[00:43:00] And for some of them people asked for advice and others they didn't. And they found that asking for advice actually made people look better, not worse. And one question is why? Why would asking for advice make you look better? And the reason is very simple. We're all ego-centric. We all think we have great ideas.
[00:43:16] We all think we give great advice. And so when other people ask us for advice, we go that person's really smart, cuz they ask me for advice. And so by asking for advice we take advantage of the fact that people think of themselves positively and take advantage of that to help ourselves out as well.
[00:43:32] Hala Taha: So I would like to ask a more general question. A lot of the people who listen to my podcast are entrepreneurs, they're side hustlers, and a lot of them are just involved in sales and love this the topic of sales. So can you just give us your best advice after all this research, this great book that you put out, what can we do better in terms of language for sales?
[00:43:50] Jonah Berger: I think it, as you nicely said, pay attention to your pitch. Whether you're communicator, a speaker a podcaster, whatever it is, we use language all the time. We don't see it, [00:44:00] record it. Listen to it, digest it, unpack it. Think about, okay, am I using a word like can't or don't, am I using telling something in action or an identity?
[00:44:08] Really dive down into what the pieces of what you're trying to communicate are not just the topics, what you're trying to say. This is a great product. You should buy this, you're gonna like this, that's fine. How are you saying it? What are the words or language that you're using to communicate those ideas?
[00:44:22] By delving deeply into the exact words, you're using and the ways you're using them. We can all increase our effectiveness.
[00:44:29] Hala Taha: Are there any words in sales that we should never use?
[00:44:31] Jonah Berger: I wouldn't say there are words we should never use. I would say, and I think this is somewhat obvious already, but start with understanding too often as sales folks. We want to basically drop off the pitch.
[00:44:43] I want to send a hundred emails, with the same information in each of them and assume somebody will bite. While that seems efficient, it's often not very effective overall cuz it's not tailored to our audience. The more we understand our audience, the more we understand what they care about, why they might be interested in what we're offering. The more effective we can be [00:45:00] as a salesperson.
[00:45:01] Hala Taha: Got it. All right. I'm gonna close this interview out with the same two questions we ask all our guests. The first one is, what is one actionable thing our Young and Profiteers can do today to become more profitable tomorrow?
[00:45:11] Jonah Berger: Pay attention to language. We use it all the time. We are all speakers. We are all writers.
[00:45:15] Whether we get on stage, whether we write books and essays, or whether we just write emails or just speak to clients and colleagues. We are all writers and speakers, by understanding the power of language, we can increase our impact.
[00:45:27] Hala Taha: And what is your secret to profiting in life?
[00:45:29] Jonah Berger: I think now people can go back and listen to the other episode and see whether I said the same thing.
[00:45:33] But I think what I would say, and sorry if I said it same thing before, is it's always just great to be curious. There always, almost anything out there is interesting if you look at it long enough. So I think being curious and having curiosity is a great skill.
[00:45:45] Hala Taha: Awesome. And where can everybody find Magic Words and learn more about you?
[00:45:49] Jonah Berger: Thanks. So the book is available where wherever books are sold. So Amazon, Barnes and Noble, local, independent book sellers, whatever you like. Folks can find me at jonahberger.com. There's not only [00:46:00] more information about the book, but also a whole bunch of free resources. So that speak framework that we talked about a one pager about it. A guide for using language more effectively, asking better questions, all of which should be helpful.
[00:46:10] Hala Taha: Awesome. Thanks so much, jonah.
[00:46:12] Jonah Berger: Thanks for having me.
[00:46:19] Hala Taha: I have to say, this conversation really got me thinking about words. Words are how we persuade, communicate, and connect. They're how leaders lead, how salespeople sell, how teachers teach, how policymakers govern, even our private thoughts rely on language. Like Jonah mentioned in the beginning of the interview, we use over 16,000 words a day.
[00:46:41] We spend a lot of time thinking about our ideas and our requests and the things that we want, but a lot of us put much less thought into the specific words. That we use when communicating these ideas and requests. But all this does us a disservice. Because certain words are more impactful than others, certain words [00:47:00] are better at changing minds, engaging audiences, or driving actions. The right word in the right place can vastly change whether somebody agrees to a request or finds our ideas compelling.
[00:47:11] In fact, Jonah says that research shows that adding the word because to requests can make people 50% more likely to say yes, even if the reason behind that because isn't very good. People are just more likely to say yes when you say the word, because. Another example we went over today was changing a noun to a verb.
[00:47:32] Don't ask people to help. Call them helpers. Don't ask people to vote. Instead, call them voters. Let them find their identity in the thing you want them to do. Turn actions into identities, and when speaking on behalf of yourself. You also need to choose your words wisely. Turns out there's a right and a wrong way to say no.
[00:47:52] Stay away from saying you can't do something. If you really don't wanna do something and instead say you don't do that thing, [00:48:00] because now you've made what you're saying no to part of your internal value system. Whereas saying that you can't do something suggests, that there's some external factor preventing you from doing the thing that you wanna say no to.
[00:48:11] Jonah gave us so many tips today and the net young interpreters is that subtle shifts in language can have a huge impact in us achieving the outcomes that we're looking for. If you wanna learn more about the power of words, go get Jonah Berger's latest book Magic Words. Thank you for listening to this episode of Young and Profiting podcast.
[00:48:30] If you listen, learn and profited, share this episode with your friends and family, and drop us a five star review on Apple Podcast. That's the number one way to thank me and everybody who works hard on the show. If you like watching your podcast videos, you can find us on YouTube, and you guys can also find me on Instagram @yapwithhala or LinkedIn by searching my name. It's Hala Taha.
[00:48:49] Big shout out to my amazing and hardworking YAP team. Thanks for all that you do behind the scenes. This is your host, Hala Taha, aka the podcast Princess signing off.[00:49:00]
[00:49:14] Hope you enjoyed this episode. I'm Darius Mirshahzadeh, hosted of the Greatness Machine and part of YAP Media Network, the number one business and self-improvement podcast network. So what's the Greatness Machine? The Greatness Machine. We are a badass podcast and we're about two things. We're about, people are living their passions and those who are creating greatness in the world.
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