Magic Words: The Science and Secrets Behind Seven Words That Motivate, Engage, and Influence - by Tim David
Why this book?
We all want to lead and influence others, but nobody wants to be influenced. How then can you influence others as a leader?
I've had a strong fascination for the brain's cognitive biases, the fallacies we exhibit without even being aware of them. They can be used to move us in the right direction - as a good leader would, or to take advantage of us - as a con artist would. Knowing the biases and recognizing them day-to-day is something I'm practicing.
With that in mind, I read this book as a collection of psychological tricks - ways to get people's attention, create positive associations and ultimately break down sales resistance to your ideas. To be fair he authors didn't write it exactly with this intent - they talk about each technique in ways that a "good salesperson" will use them. Obviously they can just as easily be used by black-hat salespeople to fleece you.
The other important thing is that this book makes you aware of how small daily interactions, positive or negative, can leave others with a lasting impression of you and influence their decision making towards your ideas.
A true human connection is a must-have if you want to successfully influence someone else.
- Generating motivation is the first key to get results
- Directing that motivation is the next problem - but one that only comes after the first key is in place
The magic words:
- Their name
Be willing to find a way to make a positive connection with any human being.
"Yes" is not just about the word - it's about the attitude.
Example: marriage counselors can tell within 5 minutes whether or not a couple has a chance. Researchers have identified 6 early signs of divorce (any 1 is bad), most of them have to do with saying "no" to your partner in one way or another.
Sign 1: Any of the The 4 horsemen of the apocalypse:
- Contempt (“I am morally superior to you” - exact opposite of yes)
A contemptuous sneer is the most damaging physical expression you can give someone. It causes actual physical and psychological harm.
Sign 2: Failed Repair attempts
Rejecting an apology, olive branch, gesture that the other partner is making towards reconciliation.
6 of 7 ways to fix a marriage involve saying “Yes” more and more. For example:
- Create shared experience
- Let your partner influence you (accept their influence)
- Bridge conflict
- Have admiration
How to use Yes to create positive associations:
Technique: Ask future-tense questions where the answers are Yes.
- The very act of saying Yes is magical.
- Priming subjects with positive-outcome questions makes them more inclined to saying “Yes" to other questions.
e.g. “Can we fix this situation?"
e.g. “Can we fix this situation?"
Technique: Use tag questions - e.g. “Right?” or “Aren’t you?” or even “Yes?”.
- Deliver confidently, authoritatively. No upward vocal inflection.
- Deliver confidently, authoritatively. No upward vocal inflection.
- Another twist is to add it as a negative question: e.g. “Doesn’t everybody want to get into shape?"
Technique: LYing (pronounced elL-wY-ing):
- Statements that begin with “Obviously”, “naturally”, “clearly” are more inclined to get a Yes mindset going.
Technique: Backtracking - i.e. repeating back exactly what the other person said:
- Say exactly what they said to you. Parrot-phrase, don’t paraphrase.
- “You said you’ve got ____” - they can't but agree
- NOT the same as clarifying (which is putting the other person’s statements in your own words) - usually surrounded by “___, is that right?” or “Are you saying that ___"
- Respond to every positive statement with a “Yes” - creates positive energy, builds momentum- “Yes”, “Yes and” - like in improv
- Instead of saying “No”, say “Yes, but"
Bad Technique: Noddables (used by con men)
- “It’s better to be safe than sorry” - cliches that are ingrained and very hard to disagree with.
- If you nod while saying something, others will nod too (mirror neuron triggering)
Bad Technique: Barnum statements (used by con men)
- Generalist statements that are true for everyone, but seem very particular (e.g. “sometimes you are outgoing, but at other times you are incoming")
- Favorite technique of fraudulent psychics - often laced with honesty, meant to sound like it’s addressed to you specifically
- The emotional brain does not react well to negatives, it fails to register it
- “Do NOT” fails to register in the brain.“Don’t do drugs” or “don’t think of rhinoceroses for next 10 secs” - in order to process the don’t, you have to picture the opposite.
- Pilot says to passengers “Put on seat belts. There is absolutely no cause for concern” - how do you feel? You feel the way they didn't want you to.
- Doctor calls and says “I want to run a few tests, no need to be worried” - how do you feel?
“Absolutely” - ends doubt, gives you authority and confidence as a problem solver
“Yes, and ___” - makes the other person feel valued, like you're on the same side
- Saying “Yes” can give you new adventures, make you popular and please others,
- But you could start to say it too much.
- But you could start to say it too much.
- Words we use to describe them: Enablers, pleasers - who crave acceptance and despise conflict. Suck ups. Milquetoast.
- Can lead to loss of integrity, lack of being taken seriously.
- Cons and charlatans can spot yes people a mile away - they know when people feel the pain of pushing away another human being
Saying “No” grants safety, keeps things the same. Protection against an unknowable future.
Saying it too much gets people a reputation of being stuck up. They lose a lot by not taking risks.
When to say no:
- When your morals are threatened. Do not dilute your own qualities.
- Tell the truth when you’re committed elsewhere
- A mark of maturity is self discipline. Say no when it's the right thing to do.
- "A No uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a Yes uttered to please.” - Gandhi
How to say no:
- Remember: "No" hurts a lot more than yes. It feels bad a lot more to lose $50 than it feels good to win $50.
- Give yourself time. The hallmark of traditional y/n people is that they don’t think things through. Saying “I’ll think about it” is powerful.
- The Yes sandwich. e.g. If a student asks for an extension that the prof can't agree to, the prof can say “I can see that the grade is important to you. I can’t grant you the extension, but I can grant you partial credit for your work so far"
- Give a reason or two why - “Unfortunately I can’t because ___" (see magic word #3)
- Euphemisms - “I’m sorry, I can’t commit to that”, “I’d love to, but I can’t”. “I’m going to have to decline"
Life is a hell of a lot more fun when you say “Yes"
The "but effect”: In any sentence, the thing that comes after the “but” is far more important than what comes before.
The enhancer: whatever comes after the ‘but’ is what people focus on
The eraser: whatever comes before the ‘but’ is ignored - especially if it’s the exact opposite statement of what came before the ‘but' statement
How to use it right:
- Change the emphasis (e.g. change the order to bad news first, then add the ‘but’ with the positive)
- Remove ‘but’, use ‘and’ instead
When to say it:
- To erase soft Nos - start with the disagreement, say ‘but’, then say what you hope to accomplish. "I know you can't buy life insurance right now, but I want you to think about the benefits of this to your family"
- Address unspoken soft Nos: “I know everyone is asking you for money this time of year, but you’re one of our best donors”… “I know you’re busy, but this is really important"
- e.g. “Let me show you around our gym, and then we can look at some numbers?"
- puts the likely-to-get-a-yes question in front, then links other questions to it.
Fighting intentional but-erasers:
how do you fight “I’d like to, but I can’t”?
- But-reversal: repeat back what they said to you, but with one small adjustment.
- e.g. “You can’t, but you’d love to?” - changes focus to the positive part, may not change the outcome, but at least changes how people end up feeling about the interaction.
All communication has a goal. You should know exactly what you want the other person to feel/do as a result of your interaction.
Q. What specific action do you want them to take?
Q. How do they need to feel in order to take that action?
Because satisfies our internal need for causality. It doesn’t completely eliminate the need for a logical reason, but it makes a huge persuasive push that your statement/directive is valid.
“May I cut in line, because I am in a huge rush?" - doubled rate of acceptance.
The brain only wants to feel like it has an explanation. Sometimes even if the reason is removed, the word “because” magically gives them the sense - e.g. “May I cut in line, because I need to buy some tickets?"
It has a magic effect on snap quick decisions.
For it to work on more complex problems, the “reason” has to ramp up as well.
“Because ___(one of Maslow’s 5 needs)" is really really compelling to individuals and difficult to ignore. However, some of them don’t appeal to others.
- need to
- have to
- want to
- choose to
- love to
- called to
"Need To"s are motivated - to show up. They hide and avoid work after that. They survive.
“Have To”s are motivated - but they don’t go above the call of duty. As long as the 40 hours give them the salary and benefits, they’re done.
“Want To”s do it because the alternative is worse, like staying home doing nothing. They are driven by the social aspect, office gossip, etc.
“Choose To” - wants to achieve success, but only serves personal gains. But struggles to be a team player.
“Love To” - has a hard time telling between business and pleasure. Intrinsic motivation.
“Called To” - sees a bigger purpose and fulfillment. It’s not about money, but they give their all anyway.
Your “because” will never work unless you are motivated by something beyond earning a living. You have to change your perspective, or you can change your profession. There’s no excuse for a job that is miserable.
The grass is greener where it’s watered.
The Square Suggestion technique.
- e.g. “Think of a shape right now, such as a square, or a circle, or… whatever" - very likely does NOT get a square or circle as the answer.
- People always believe what they tell themselves. Mentalists use their words to manipulate the thoughts, beliefs and feelings of an audience.
- The brain loves shortcuts. The simplest answers are often the first choice. So if you put time pressure on someone, they are likely to choose their first answer.
- People want to be immune to suggestion. They want to think of their own idea, and feel like their thoughts are their own.
- True influence is about reading people, and bringing down defenses and opposition.
ABT (Advanced Because Technique) - get people to say “because” to themselves.
1. simple technique: ask “Why” over and over. That taps into the other person’s own becauses
- e.g. “Why should you be exercising more?” “Why are you looking to buy a Honda today?"
2. The trailing “… or ..."
- e.g. “Some people get into this for the money, but others do it for the mission, or the karma, ___(long pause)___ or __(long pause)___ any other reasons”. Their brains are creating and exploring what the other suggestions might be. How their mind fills the gap depends a LOT on your initial suggestions. It almost never happens that they’ll break the pattern.
Using “because” to lead:
- Never assume you know, or your team knows, what your team’s vision is.
The 2 minute Vision test
Answer the 3 questions below on a piece of paper. ACTUALLY WRITE IT DOWN. THINKING IT IS NOT ENOUGH:
1. What is your organization’s mission?
To further 10,000 client missions by 2030. To transform businesses by writing transformative software that they really need, not just want.
2. What is your department's mission?
To deliver software projects on time, on budget and with high quality
3. What is your mission as an employee?
To make a strong positive impact to my clients through quality software. To make a strong positive impact to my colleagues by leading, mentoring and coaching.
If they can’t write it down in under 2 mins, then clarity of vision is lacking.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. They want to do business with people who think how they think - the business is an extension of their personal expression, community and belonging (the limbic system - lizard brain). That sells a lot more than features and prices (the neocortex). Think Apple v/s Samsung.
Find people who share your because.
#4. Their name
The brain’s job is to focus on what is important or not.
Levels of listening attention:
1. Top down (actively engaged) - very difficult to do - a conscious act of listening. Example: a classroom.
2. Bottom up (stimulus-directed response) - when you hear something out of place. Prioritized above the top-down by the brain. Hearing a person's name triggers this response in their brain.
3. Startled response - sudden loud noises, your name, etc. Almost-instantaneous response.
People make a LARGE number of choices based simply on the letters in their names.
Using names wisely
1. To get buy in.
People most often quit their jobs because they feel undervalued or under appreciated.
See people as individuals, not as a number.
Call on your introverts by name if their inputs are not forthcoming in meetings. If nothing, ask for 1x1. If not, ask for written/email.
2. Pattern interrupt.
If something is going off the rails, and you need to bring them back to the here-and-now. Our name works perfectly for that - it brings us to the moment, and directs their attention to the speaker.
Shout it a bit if you want to engage their startle response, but keep it safe (or make it safe again) as soon as possible.
Remember people’s names. Listen to it once, say it back twice, make active visual memory aids.
1. To fight “I don’t know"
- “What would you say if you did know?"
- Takes the pressure off
2. To fight resistance to persuasion:
- Nobody wants to be influenced, they want to feel like they made their own decision
There are 4 resistance barriers, and “if” can break them all down:
1. Reactance - a response to being pushed, being “sold to” - e.g. the pushy salesman
Response: “if someone came to me with your exact situation, I’d recommend X” - redirect the sale target
2. Distrust - tends to show up in absolutes (“all salesmen are liars”)
Response: move them from absolutes to a realistic assessment of the situation. “What if this was an actual cure for your woes?"
3. Scrutiny (weighing pros/cons and feeling the negatives) - a thoughtful target starts thinking about the weaknesses of the proposition, and goes into analysis paralysis.
Response: “If i could show you a way to get all the benefits of this product, would you do it?"
- if you agree to that, you’re pretty much committed. after that you’d only be contradicting yourself.
4. Inertia (changing behavior patterns) - people tend to keep doing what they do - it’s the chasm between intention and action
- Response: generate the Anticipation of regret. e.g. “A lot can happen in a week. god forbid if something happened to you in that week and your family was left without insurance?” or “you’d be kicking yourself if you didn’t pick these guys and they won"
3. For when they can't
- If a child or employee says “I can’t do it”, and you retort with “yes you can” - you’re starting from an antagonistic point, and also dismissing their feeling. Instead do this:
- “What would you say if you did know?"
- Up the ante, take the hypotheticals up to the level they’re willing to go in saying "I can't". If they push, push back. See what happens.
- Add psychological encouragement. “I know you feel like you can't. But what would happen if you did?” - starts with agreement, makes the “can’t” feeling less permanent, adds a “but” eraser, then uses the If magic word
- Add more: “because i can think of 2-3 ways to get this done, and I am no way as creative and intelligent as you are"
4. For when they complain
Dealing with complainers:
- - Sift through the negativity and find out what the issues are
- - Repeat the list of grievances back. Get confirmation.
- - ask for solutions
- - provide a plan of action
- - Wrap it up. Complainers don’t know how to end conversations.
They can’t get past step 3 because they get hung up on the “how”. You want to focus on the “what” - that’s where the IF bomb helps.
Thinking about positive (hypothetical) options
The deadly cousin of If: Then
Why it’s bad:
- T: transactional
- invokes market norms mindset (as opposed to social norms mindset - e.g. people helping each other out) -you’re thinking about benefit to you. you’re expecting a payout and your heart is not in it. People work more and better for a cause than for cash.
- That’s why incentives don’t work. Kids get allowance if they clean their room? Or should kids clean their rooms because we are a family that cares about cleanliness
- Social norms foster engagement. Market norms foster compliance.
- H: heroin-like
- when you win the dangling carrot, your brain’s reward center kicks in.
- your if/then reward tolerance goes up, next time you need a bit more
- if/then overdose kills motivation
- Antidote: human connection, social norms
- If/then junkies
- people who sabotage others or cut corners to get their transactional reward fix
- E: extrinsic motivation
- creates an external reward system - which is not where the best performance comes from
- Self-determination gets subverted
- External rewards also create competition, scrutiny and control - which all kill internal motivation
- N: near sighted
- Greatness and near sightedness are incompatible
- “If” has great motivational potential, “then” makes it short-term
Intrinsic motivation is what you’re looking for, but in absence of that, extrinsic has to be applied. This is the basis of GAMIFICATION. Games can be motivating and addictive.
A spectator is a detached, uninvolved person who just happens to be there.
Asking for help turns them into active participants.
For a performer, Audience Participation is key. You are just the “guide” leading them through an experience. You’re not the guru with all the answers.
Your job as a parent/manager/leader is to make yourself unnecessary to your children/reports/company. The goal is to make them independent. It’s a short term ego boost to feel needed, but it harms both parties in the long run.
Ask for genuine help.
A successful strategy of CSRs
“let’s”, “we” - says I’m on your side. We’re in this together against a common enemy.
In management: it’s called “Delegating” but it’s essentially asking for help. Why don’t we?
- don’t want to give up control
- “easier to do it myself"
Only hurts in the long run. Employee engagement disappears.
3 laws of delegation (foster engagement)
- If they ask for the task, give it to them.
- They’re probably not challenged enough. They’re bored.
- Allow people to fail safely
- Massive failures kill motivation and create self doubt
- Resist the urge to jump in and correct (no matter your frustration or compulsion)
- A task can have only one owner. When you jump in, correct, etc. - you have taken back ownership. And you’ve ruined your relationship with that person.
- Which is more important, the task or the relationship?
- If failure will result in tragedy, the task is more important. e.g. teens driving a car, nurses administering dosage
- Bring people problems, not solutions
- Give the brain a solution and they’re instantly bored. Give them a problem and they’re intrigued, engaged.
- Let people figure it out themselves
Ingratitude can be a result of adaptation
Saying thanks can make you more grateful
5 components of a thanks
- Be timely
- Compliment the attributes of the benefactor
- Recognize the intent of the benefactor
- Recognize the cost to the benefactor
- Elaborate on the benefits you have received
Great leaders create a thanks culture.