Most people learned the magic word ‘please’ from their parents, and throughout life, it continues to be more than a social nicety. It opens doors and builds rapport. A sincere “please” can create positive feeling states in both the speaker as well as the person hearing it.
Your mother may not have told you that other words also have a magical quality in getting more of what you want.
The 2nd Magic Word
Harvard social psychologist, Ellen Langer’s research revealed some interesting findings. Her experiment consisted of people waiting in line to use a library copy machine and then having experimenters ask to move ahead in line. The first request used was: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine because I’m in a rush?” This request coupled with a reason was successful 94% of the time.
However when the experimenter made a request by stating: “Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the copy machine?” this request was only granted 60% of the time, a significant drop.
It may seem like the difference between those two requests was the additional wording of “because I’m in a rush”, but that’s not the case.
In a third situation, the experimenter asked: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine because I have to make some copies?”
There is no reason mentioned or new information presented, just the word because, this time a full 93% of the people said yes simply due to the word because. And it didn’t even matter that there was no reason given. Just the word “because” triggered a positive response. The word “because” is one of the 4 Magic Words. Using this linguistic ‘trigger’ can dramatically increase your success.
Do you know the other two magic words to increase your effectiveness with clients and friends?
When you were a kid, you probably drove your parents crazy asking them “why”. Why are the clouds moving in the sky? Why do I have to eat my vegetables? Why I have to go to bed so early? Why do cats have tails?
Some of the time we got answers that satisfied us. More often than not we were left wanting to know more.
The insatiable human trait of curiosity drove us to want to know “why?”. At a very young age, we got used to using the word “why”. In fact, we got so familiar using the word “why”, that we may never have learned the appropriate context in which it is actually useful.
Today, we too often ask “why” in the wrong context, when the answer is either a subjective evaluation or information about which we can do nothing.
For example: Why is it so hard to get anything done around here? Why didn’t I get the promotion? Why am I so stuck on this project? Why is it so hard to get people to agree with me? Why doesn’t he like me? Why am I so worried about my future?
When you ask yourself the question “why” you set in motion an internal search for the answers which can be as wide-ranging as “because I am not good enough” or “because that person is mean or dishonest or just doesn’t care” or “ because I have no control over my life”.
However, if you want to get action started, get something done, solve a problem or move forward, then asking “how” instead of “why” can be more efficient and effective.
How can I acquire the skills I need to move ahead? How can I find out what kind of ideas my team leader is open to? How do I identify the steps needed to move this project forward? How can I get my peers to agree with me? How can I resolve the issue with my co-worker? How do I develop confidence as I go forward with this change?
From the examples, you may have noticed a pattern. Questions formulated with a “why” will lead you to focus on the past and can dredge up some of your limiting beliefs. Questions formulated with “how” are process-oriented and go toward the future.
To get the full value of the magic word “how”, practice listening to how often people ask “why”. Notice the kind of responses that come up, the reasons and justifications versus actual useful criteria. You’ll probably begin to notice that the question “why” will most often lead to a “stuck” place or a “blame” place.
Once you recognize the typical responses that come from the word “why” you can begin to empower yourself by asking “how.” How can I get this done? How I go about getting an agreement? How can I motivate my teammates? How can I motivate myself?
Very quickly you’ll come to appreciate the power of “how.”
With a little practice, by adding “how” into your repertoire you’ll find that it also engages curiosity in beneficial ways leading to solutions. Next time you come up against a problem, instead of asking “Why did this happen?” ask, “HOW do I address this situation to bring about a successful resolution?”
And using “why”? We will discuss the “how” of using “why” in a future blog.
The 4th Magic Word
It always amazes me when I hear people undermining the outcome of their communication using one simple 3-letter word. Apparently, they never learned the ‘magic’ of another 3-letter word that can consistently transport the listener to a state of mind where they are open and receptive to suggestion.
Both of these 3-letter words are powerful when used with intent. The question you want to have in the back of your mind is “Where do I want to direct my listener’s attention?” First, let’s focus on what I call the 4th Magic Word, then we’ll consider when to use the ‘undermining’ word.
Are you curious?
Let me give you some examples and as you read, listen to yourself and notice what happens in your experience.
“I know you’re putting in extra time on this project, but you’re not keeping me updated.”
“I know you’re putting in extra time on this project and I’d like you to report to me weekly on your progress.”
“I appreciate that you want me to have all these details, but you’re wasting my time.”
“I appreciate that you want me to have all these details and I have time constraints that I want you to consider.”
“That might be a good idea, but it will never work with this team.”
“That might be a good idea, and you will have to present it very creatively to get buy-in from the team.”
Notice the difference. Linguistically the word “but” will negate whatever comment came before it. The word “and” adds on, so the listener can more easily take in the feedback. Also, notice that the intended message was reframed from a negative to a positive (highly recommended).
Great communicators use this slight linguistic nuance quite naturally. Trained communicators understand that when giving feedback it’s essential to prepare the information they want the listener to have with reliable, objective facts. Yet even trained communicators are often inexperienced in the magic of the word “and”. Consider what it’s like when you’re in a conversation and you’ve made a comment and then the person you’re speaking with responds with “yeah but…”. Doesn’t it feel as if what you’ve just said has been completely negated? How do you imagine people feel when you use the word ‘but’ after they have said something to you.
So here is your fourth magic word “AND”. It is short, sweet, magical. Don’t just take my word for it, check it out for yourself.
Now let’s look at how you can be effective in influencing others by using the word ‘but’. “I understand that our competitor offers features that we don’t offer, but considering the benefits of working with our service and team you will find…”
” Yes, in the past there have been issues, but with the changes, we’ve initiated because of your feedback, and because we value you as a customer, you’re going to be pleased that you went ahead.”
As in the first example, notice how ‘but’ is used first to acknowledge and then to diminish the position of the competitor in spite of what could be objections. This phrasing can be a useful tool to redirect your listener’s attention to what you want to be considered more important in their thinking. In the second example ‘but’ is again used to acknowledge facts. In this sentence ‘but‘ is used strategically with the magic words ‘because’ and ‘and’ directing the listener to the frame of mind to where you want them to be thinking.
So now you have your fourth magic word.
One from your mother – ‘please’… And the three magic words from NLP: ‘because’, ‘how’ and ‘and’. They are simple, and they work like magic; find out for yourself.
And, please have fun using the four magic words because you will discover how they enrich rapport and increase your influence with others.