How to get your way with a subtle shift in vocabulary

Did you know that your choice of words can determine whether or not you get your way? Even changing a word’s suffix or prefix can be enough to tip the scales in your favour.


If you’d like to tap into the incredible potential of word choice to persuade, convince and convert, read ‘Magic Words: What to say to get your way’ by Jonah Berger, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. If you’re pushed for time, you can discover the author’s five key points on the subject at The Next Big Idea Club or skip straight to our summary below.


  1. Words tell us everything. Whether we’re salespeople using them to sell, leaders using them to lead, or teachers using them to teach, words have the power to persuade, communicate and connect. So the next time you’re lavishing attention on the contents and flow of a presentation, make sure you give due consideration to your word choices too. Selecting the right words can make all the difference when it comes to securing your desired outcome.
  2. A research study – where half a group of people was asked ‘to vote’ and half were asked to ‘be a voter’ – demonstrates the above point. It found that the subtle word difference resulted in a 15 percent better outcome for the second group. The explanation is that the first option relates to our actions while the second appeals to our sense of identity, which is much more likely to trigger a positive outcome. We all want to see ourselves in a positive light.


By the same token, losing and cheating are negative behaviours but being a loser or a cheater is much worse.


  1. Contrary to popular opinion, asking for advice makes us look smarter. When you ask someone for advice, they view it as a sign of your competence and intelligence. That’s because, egocentric creatures that we are, we tend to credit ourselves as being a great source of advice and expertise. The logical conclusion is that anyone who asks to tap into our pool of knowledge must be very clever too.
  2. We all listen when charismatic people speak. That’s primarily due to their absolute confidence. It’s compelling and persuasive. Hence we’re more likely to pick a financial adviser who sounds more certain about what the future holds even if their track record of accuracy is no more impressive than their less confident competitors.
  3. Research has found that swapping ‘should’ to ‘could’ has the potential to make us more creative at problem-solving. So banish the restrictive ‘should’ from your internal narrative and, when asking your team for creative solutions, ask them what they ‘could’ (vs. ‘should’) do. Prepare yourself to be impressed by the flood of innovative ideas from all quarters.



And that, as they say, is a wrap! Are there any word choices that have helped to boost your powers of persuasion and effectiveness in the workplace? Please share if so. And, if you’d like to learn how we can help you with your recruitment challenges – saving you time and money and delivering high-quality, talented, best-fit candidates – please call us at 020 7092 3911 or email us at today!