One Word That Will Boost Your Powers of Persuasion

Do you find yourself sidelined in meetings? Does it seem like your opinion doesn’t get heard? Are frustrated by what appears to be a lack of traction with your co-workers?

If so, you may be using the wrong words to present your case.

This Wall Street Journal blog post points to a recent study from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, which found that certain words have the power to persuade. All you have to do is use them… and presto! Your ideas will be like gold, and you’ll have more allies than you know what to do with! So what are these magical words? Would you believe that the top most persuasive word is “yeah”?

By analyzing the use of language in a sampling of 95 meetings, these researchers found that the word “yeah” was most highly correlated with an individual’s ability to persuade others and win agreement. This short excerpt from the study offers reasoning for that finding:

Dialogue segments where the word “yeah” is used include: “or yeah, maybe even just a limited multi-color so it doesn’t look too childish,” “yeah, if you had one of those, just coming back to your other point about pressing the button and setting off the bleeper in the room,” “Yeah if you are holding it in your hand you could do that.” Judging from these and similar dialogue segments, our hypothesis is that framing a suggestion as an agreement with a previous suggestion increases its chances of being accepted. That is, if the idea comes across as if it were in line with previous thoughts by others, the suggestion has a higher chance of being accepted. This applies either when attributing the full idea to others, or just the line of thought. The case where one attributes their full idea to others in order to increase its chances of acceptance has been considered in popular books Carnegie [1936].

In other words, you have a better chance of convincing others if you seem to agree with them first. Think of what a turn-off it is when every comment, suggest and observation is countered with a “No, I don’t think so” or “That’s not going to happen” or “That won’t work.”

Those negative responses are a clear sign of resistance. Resistance to other people’s ideas. Resistance to new ways of doing things. Resistance to change. And resistance is the best way to shut down a conversation, put everyone on edge and make yourself look bad.

That’s why I always suggest responding to new ideas with “Yes, and…” instead of “No, but…” This simple opening is a powerful way to show that you a) heard and understood what was just said and b) are willing to build on the ideas that are already on the table. Being agreeable and willing to work in a team is the best way to win people over.

My takeaway from this study? Just say “yes!”

Want to learn other strategies for "saying yes"? Pick up a copy of Reality-Based Leadership.

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