Be Right? Or Be Effective? Magic Words Can Make a Difference

board development and revitalization ensuring sustainable resources intentional practices Jun 12, 2023
Be Right? Or Be Effective? Magic Words Can Make a Difference


Words do more than just convey information. They signal who’s in charge, who’s to blame, and what it means to engage in a particular action.


Consequently, by harnessing the language of identity, we can encourage desired actions, both in ourselves and others. When asking people to do things, for example, we often use verbs. “Can you help me revise this PowerPoint deck,” for example, or “please turn out and vote.”


But a simple shift can increase our influence. Rather than asking people to “help,” a 2014 study found that asking children to be a “helper” increased helping by almost a third. Rather than asking people to “vote,” research published in PNAS founds that asking them to be a “voter” increased turnout by 15%. Here’s why.


In his book Magic Words, Jonah Berger offers cutting-edge research, revealing how six types of words can increase your impact in every area of life: from persuading others and building stronger relationships, to boosting creativity and motivating teams. Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


According to Dan Pink (from whom I learned of the work), Magic Words is astonishing. It delivers an array of tips on how to become a better persuader along with fresh insights into the science of language. This book will fundamentally change how you speak, how you listen, how you write—and maybe even who you are.


This summary offers Jonah Berger in his own words.

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Everyone wants to see themselves positively. Consequently, framing certain actions (e.g., helping or voting) as opportunities to confirm desired identities (i.e., being a helper or voter) encourages people to behave accordingly. Turning actions into (desired) identities makes people more likely follow our request.


Take asking for advice. People are often wary of asking others for help. We don’t want to bother them, and we worry they’ll think less of us. We worry that asking for advice will make us look incompetent or that we don’t know what we’re doing. So we skip it altogether.

But this intuition is misguided. Because rather than being seen negatively, people who ask for advice are actually seen as more capable, skilled, and qualified. And it has everything to do with how asking for advice makes the people who are asked feel.


People like feeling smart. They like feeling like other people think they’re knowledgeable or have valuable things to say. So asking for advice makes us seem more competent because it makes the people we ask feel good about themselves – like people think their advice is worth asking for. So rather than thinking we’re incompetent or stupid for asking for asking, advice givers draw a very different conclusion: “Of course my opinions are valuable, so this person is smart for asking for them.”


So this book delivers an array of tips on how to become an effective persuader along with fresh insights into the science of influence and language, how are you can persuade others, different social connections.


There’s a difference between being right and being effective. And a few words make all the difference.


What are your main “pain points” dealing with influence and advocacy?

What advice would be most helpful to you?
And we always assume that you are asking for a friend!


Get in touch. We’ll address your questions and concerns in an upcoming blog post.



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P.S. May I ask a tiny favour? Would you mind sharing this blog with one person? I would love it. You can post the links in your Facebook Groups, LinkedIn or even send an email.

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