Persuasion: Using Psycholinguistics To Get What You Want

Persuasion is very useful in the workplace. You can use it to command attention, successfully negotiate a deal, stop office drama from happening and anything else you would like to use it for. We all know people who somehow always get others to go along with their ideas or even do what they want. But the good news for the rest of us is that persuasion can be learned. In this article I'm going to focus on psycholinguistics- a branch of psychology that focuses on the study of verbal behaviour and how words affect our emotions.

How do words affect our thoughts?

We all know how politicians, sales people and advertisers phrase things: 'negative economic growth' instead of 'economic slump', 'imitation leather' instead of 'PVC', 'levels have remained steady' instead of 'no improvement'. Words can influence and distort our thinking. Just think of the last time you played down an incident or exaggerated an anecdote; you had to choose your words carefully to convey the distorted version of events, even though you might hardly have been aware of doing it. Now you know how it works, it's easy to apply it to your work life.

Stop office drama before it even starts

You've probably heard the saying 'ASSUME makes an ASS of U and ME'. It's even more true when it comes to words. A lot of the time, assumptions make us choose words which encourage defensiveness in the other person. This can lead to arguments and bad working relationships. It can also make you look like a bad boss or an annoying, picky colleague. Is someone being lazy or incompetent at work? Ask for explanations instead of just blaming them. Try saying 'That invoice wasn't spellchecked. Is there a problem?', 'I notice you're struggling with...' or 'Is everything okay? I see there's a queue forming in the lobby.' Sticking a compliment in front of the criticism is a great idea, too: 'Ben, you've always produced great copy. But in these last two weeks I've been having to edit a lot of your articles. Is there something bothering you?'

Get people to agree with you

How do you make someone agree with your idea or accept an inconvenience or bad deal? If you're trying to convince a colleague, never, ever say 'I disagree' (try 'I hear what you're saying, however...'). A useful trick is to repeat portions of what they've said and keep linking to their ideas, like this: 'As you were saying...', 'as you've pointed out, it's true that...'. This softens the disagreement. Phrases like 'you've given me a lot of points to consider' work great too.

Keeping relationships: Words to avoid

Don't use the words 'you' and 'why' too much, as they tend to be associated with criticism and force the other person to defend their actions. 'Why are you always the last one to hand in your report?' or 'You never call when you're running late for a meeting' are not going to promote a calm, level-headed answer. Instead, start sentences with 'I' instead of 'You' or 'Why'; it also makes you sound assertive: 'I notice that generally the last report to be filed is yours' and 'I need your support when there's a meeting. It would be helpful if you could let me know in future if there's any delays.' Other words to steer clear of are 'forcing' words like 'must', 'should', etc. This is important for your social and family life, too!

Get people to accept anything

And if you're negotiating a deal, don't use negative words like 'We regret to inform you', 'I'm afraid we can't get it to you until...' or 'Unfortunately the earliest delivery date is...'. Negotiations should always be conducted using positive words so the other person thinks they're getting a great deal or is motivated to keep dealing with you instead of finding some other company which can deliver earlier. Words like 'we have to inform you' or 'we're delighted to say we can deliver it by..' 'we'll get it to you by...' are much better. In fact, even 'is x date okay?' would work, as most people find it difficult to disagree when someone asks them if something is okay; they might protest, but will quickly come round to the idea if you offer reasons and apologies, and an assurance that you will definitely get it to them by x date. Remember not to make life worse than it is by reminding people of why they should disagree with you. So don't say 'you said at the meeting that you'd work with us at £y. Well, we can go as far down as £x'. This statement almost forces the other person to defend their original position of £y. Instead, tell them 'We've discussed it, and now we're delighted to inform you that we'll be happy to work with you at the figure of £x'.

Remember that it's not what you say, it's how you say it. The exact same thing could send someone stomping off in a huff or shaking your hand in agreement as they prepare to join you in implementing your idea. Don't be lazy or careless with words, and you'll find that success comes much easier. A lot of success in the workplace is down to properly applied psycholinguistics.

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