When you were a kid, your mom probably asked you to say the “magic word” when requesting something. You quickly found out that saying “please” could get you what you wanted.
But Tim Davis, a professional magician and communications expert, says there are actually seven magic words backed up by science that can help you persuade, influence and engage others. By knowing the right thing to say, you’ll be able to get your team to perform better and get others to make concessions when negotiating. He says it’s a technique he has taught to companies such as 3M and Burger King.
Davis outlines the seven magic words in his book, “Magic Words”:
“Saying yes at the beginning of an interaction eases tension, creates rapport and opens minds,” he says. He explains that in every interaction, you are being judged in two phases. The first phase is highly emotional, illogical and often unfair. This is the phase that puts you into one of four buckets: "good, "bad," "sexy," or "boring.” Boring is usually the default setting, because “we can't possibly be interested in everybody,” so the brain quickly categorizes people into the buckets. That’s why “good” and “sexy” move into phase two, while “bad” and “boring” get left behind, he explains.
Further, a "yes" gives you your best chance of getting placed into the "good" bucket, he says. “Since the first phase takes only seconds to complete, the kind of ‘yes’ you'll have to use is largely non-verbal. A smile, mirroring body language and tonality, etc.,” he explains.
By finding something to agree upon with the other person, you can stop arguments from getting out of control. For example, offering a “you’re right” can ease tensions and help keep the conversation going, he says.
2. But. Allen suggests using the word “and” instead of “but.” That’s because once you add “but” to a comment, it can erase your “yes.” Another strategy is to place the information you want someone to remember the most after you say “but.”
He explains that while the word “and” links two ideas together, saying “but” draws a distinct line between them. What comes before a ‘but’ is ignored and what comes after a ‘but’ is enhanced. “It’s the word that I see misused most often,” he says.
3. Because. Toddlers often ask “why” so much that their parents may simply respond “because” just to stop the constant questioning. But this points to the brain’s need for a link between cause and effect. David explains that compelling reasons that may satisfy someone include “want to,” choose to,” love to,” and “called to.” This can be especially helpful to salespeople, David says, because “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
4. A name. Simply saying someone’s name can be valuable in engaging the other person, and can be especially valuable when dealing with introverts. Calling someone by name and inviting feedback can make them feel their input at work is important, and lead to better conversations and collaboration. Saying someone’s name is also a good strategy when the other person becomes emotional, because using such a “pattern interrupt” gives the person time to regain his or her perspective “and keep them from saying something they regret,” he says.
5. If. “People are afraid of failure and of being wrong. Throughout our entire education, we're rewarded if we get the right answers and punished if we get the wrong ones. This trend continues in most work environments. Eventually, people stop taking risks. They show up, punch a clock, and go through the motions. When pressed for an opinion, they often clam up or simply reply, ‘I don't know.’ When this happens, leaders can simply use the magic word ‘if,’ saying ‘What would you say if you did know?’" David says.
He further explains that “if” makes everything hypothetical. “People behave much differently when something is not going to be on the test, or when something is ‘off the record.’ They are more honest, more creative, and more resourceful. If they feel that there won't be any accountability for a wrong decision, they're free to take chances,” he says.
6. Help. “By asking you for help, in a way, I elevate your social status above mine. I become vulnerable and you become empowered,” he says. Further, “help” also implies a voluntary choice rather than a mandate and most people want to help when asked properly. “Studies have shown that the vast majority of us have a deep desire to make a difference in the world and to help our fellow human beings. Asking for help taps into that sense of altruism and gives people an opportunity to step outside of themselves and do something ‘for the greater good,’” he says.
7. Thanks. Expressing appreciation is magical, he says, because “it lets people know they are contributing to the lives of others, which is a deep psychological desire.” When expressing thanks, make it effective by being timely; complimenting the attributes of the benefactor; recognizing the intent; recognizing the cost to the benefactor and noting the benefits you’ve received, he suggests.
Finally, David notes that by understanding how our words affect the brains of those around us, “we can make wiser choices and begin to form more effective connections.”