Practice Describing Things in Three Different Ways

Language skills are crucial for persuasion success. And the language you use depends on the situation in which you find yourself.

Here is my suggestion: Practice describing common business situations on three different levels: straightforward, descriptive and sophisticated.

For example, your past clients were: “happy” (straightforward), “delighted” (descriptive) or “elated” (sophisticated). The business conditions were “tough,” “formidable” or “onerous.” Your results were “great,” “extraordinary” or “astonishing.”

Adjust Accordingly

As you can see, language isn’t an exact science — and you may choose different descriptors than me — but the key is to build your vocabulary so that you can match your target in whatever situation you find yourself.

Whether your targets are customer service people, marketing professionals or finance experts — and whether they are front-line buyers, mid-level managers or C-suite executives — you’ll have more options in your repertoire. When applied correctly, they can dramatically improve your effectiveness and enable you to communicate on any level.

Practice this idea, and you’ll hear “yes” more often.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

How to Escape the ‘Either/Or’ Dilemma


That’s a turn of phrase passed down from generation to generation of people trying — unsuccessfully — to persuade others. And it brings to mind such negative stereotypes as white shoes and plaid pants. But if you look at the phrase intelligently — and apply the psychology of persuasion — it can be transformed into a powerful tool.

Consider this: “Well, Corey, I’ve got time to see you either this afternoon at 2:00 or tomorrow morning at 10:00. Which of those times works for you?”

The thinking here is that you have cleverly crafted your language in such a way that your would-be client will have to pick one of those times, and voilà — you have advanced in the persuasion progression. The problem? That isn’t really what happens.

In fact, a statement like the one above actually makes some potential clients want to resist. Their first instinct is to say, “No.”

Why? Some psychologists call this reactance. They resent the fact that you are forcing their hand, and they want to resist.

Sure, they still may pick one of your options. But they will resent you for it.

So how can you change this approach?

Easy: “Corey, I’ve got time to see you either this afternoon at 2:00 or tomorrow morning at 10:00. Do either of those times work for you?”

I changed one key word. I replaced “which” with “do either,” and it completely altered the complexion of the ask. It’s assertive, not aggressive. It’s subtle and sophisticated, and it in no way creates pushback.

What if neither of those times are convenient for the customer? Simply find another time on which you both can agree.

Your use of language is one of the keys to persuasion success. The words you use and the phrases you choose have a huge bearing on what a client thinks, says and does.

Get smarter, and become more persuasive.

Sweet Emotions: Choose Your Words and Phrases Wisely

Logic makes you think, emotions make you act. You’ve heard this before, right? But you know what you haven’t heard? Someone telling you how to leverage emotions.

Until now.

The language you use and the phrases you choose can help you stir emotions of the person you’re trying to persuade. One way to create an emotional response is by using adjectives in your persuasive conversations.

Relax: I’m not going to go all “Schoolhouse Rock”  on you, but here are some great examples you can use to punch up your language.

• Adjectives can be absolute, comparative or superlative.

Good, better or best. Caution: Don’t overuse superlatives. A few add impact; using them a lot blunts their effect and erodes your credibility. Because not everything can be the best and the most.

“The Basic package is good. The Open Road is better. The Enthusiast is better still. But the Legendary is the best — and most comprehensive — package we offer. That’s where we should start.” 

Notice how this builds anticipation (a fundamental emotion) and finally joy at reaching the summit of your offering.

(Note that I don’t say the biggest, most expensive package is also the most popular. It makes consumers suspicious when your most expensive is also — curiously enough — your most popular. If it’s true, fine. But otherwise, avoid it.)

• Turn nouns and verbs into adjectives by adding an ending.

Try “-ic” or “-ish” or “-ary” or “-est,” as in “Our savviest customers typically put 20 to 25 percent down.”

Savvy is an adjective, but what’s really great about it for this example is that it also is aspirational. Everyone wants to be savvy.

• Add an adjective to a noun.

Understand that — when working with you — your target will make important decisions. “Decision” is a noun; “decide” is a verb. So add an adjective in front of that “decision.”

– A big  decision.
– A critical  decision
– A crucial  decision.
– Afar‐reaching  decision.
– A significant  decision.

“Picking the coverage for your Harley‐Davidson experience is a significant decision, and I want to make sure you have all the facts.”

Another variation involves stressing to your target that they are making not only important decisions, but also informeddecisions. Your role is really to educate others to help them make the best decision possible. Here are some variations:

– We want you to make a knowledgeable decision.
– We want you to make an educated decision.
– We want you to make a wise decision.
– We want you to make an enlightened decision.

“Picking the coverage for your Harley‐Davidson experience is crucial, and I want to make sure you have all the facts so you can make an informed decision.”

Note: It can also be helpful to identify decisions as “responsible” or even “irresponsible”:

– The responsible thing to do is consider and plan for these possibilities.
– It would be irresponsible not to consider these possibilities.

These descriptors amplify the importance of the decision and subsequently the significance of your advice. This goes a long way toward creating a trusting relationship.

Similarly, when talking about decisions that involve an element of risk, make your language more interesting by trying some of these variations:

– It’s about diminishing risk.
– It’s about lowering risk.
– It’s about decreasing risk.
– It’s about downsizing your risk.
– It’s about paring down your risk.

“Having peace of mind is all about diminishing risk. And that’s why I’d like to talk to you about the Harley‐Davidson Guaranteed Asset Protection program.”

Fear — specifically fear of loss — is probably the most powerful human emotion. We are much more influenced to act (or not) by fearing what we might lose, rather than what we have to gain.

I consider language to be of crucial importance to your persuasion success. The words you use and the phrases that you choose have a huge bearing on what others think, say and do.

Give these ideas a try immediately.

Use Fewer Words to Obtain More Results

During a recent visit to a Milwaukee-area post office, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of service options and point-of-sale items available, all offered in an effort to stimulate postal sales and revenue.

But the attempts by behind-the-counter employees to persuade customers to purchase those services or items usually bordered on the feeble, if they’re talked about them at all. “Would you like your package to be sent overnight, Priority, First Class or regular mail?” they usually asked half-heartedly, sparking discussions about the differences in services and costs.

And so it went.

“Would you like delivery confirmation?”

“Do you need any stamps today?”

“Are you interested in renting a post office box?”

This all takes time, and most people want to get in and out of the post office as quickly as possible. Not to mention, when you are 15th in line, you’ve heard those phrases so many times that you stop caring.

If the U.S. Postal Service wants more business, its transactions should be more efficient! What’s my solution? Why, two-for questions, of course: “First Class?” “Delivery confirmation?” “Need stamps?”

Whether you are in a B2C or B2B selling environment, the sales-persuasion possibilities using the two-for method are almost limitless.

B2C face-to-face exchanges might include: “Day off?” “Come far?” “Nice outside?” “Half day?” “Lunch break?”

B2B exchanges could be one of these: “Big project?” “Good meeting?” “Tough sell?” “Long day?” “Good call?”

The only boundary is your creativity (and perhaps good taste).

Do You Speak Your Industry’s Language?

In the Harley-Davidson world, we talk a lot about the Harley-Davidson culture. Whenever I’m working with dealers or anyone involved in the H-D business, I mention the importance of perpetuating that culture, and I always receive prideful acknowledgement and agreement.

Then I ask, “What is that culture?”

Blank stares.

Eventually people start shouting out, “Freedom!” “Adventure!” “Being bold!”

Then, silence.

“Yeah, I don’t know what it is either,” I always say. “But we better figure it out.”

Of course, Harley-Davidson has figured out what the culture is and does a great job of perpetuating it. A “culture” can be considered the expression of a particular community. What people do, the way they dress and the way they speak all play a role. When I use the patois (definitely not a motorcyclist’s term) of the biker culture and teach it to others not yet engaged in that culture, it enables them to instantly feel a part of it.

Subversive Prestige

Some linguists refer to this approach as “subversive prestige,” the notion typically used to describe the fairly common phenomenon of middle-class suburban kids who adopt the language of urban street gangs. It makes them feel “cool” or “tough” or “hip” — as if it elevates them somehow.

How can you incorporate this idea of subversive prestige into your persuasion process?

Well, every industry I’ve encountered has its own jargon. And when you use that vocabulary, correctly, you communicate that you are in the know, and that you have knowledge of how that company or how that industry works.

Insurance people speak of captives, floaters, and churn. Computer professionals talk of authentication, solutions, route directories. You get the idea.

Insider’s Prestige

Rather than call this subversive prestige, I refer to it as insider’s prestige — a demonstration that you know a bit of how things work on the inside. This is one way that you can use language to accelerate your persuasion success, and hear “yes” more often.

Logic makes you think. Emotions make you act. This type of insider’s prestige language is emotional.


Six Ways to Strengthen Your Pitch

Not every persuasion attempt you make will be successful. But here are six ways to strengthen your chances by adding muscle to your pitch:

1. Drop your “er.”

Watch out for the language tic that uses the comparative “er” when referring to new products, services or ideas – as in “better,” “nicer” or “sleeker” than another product or service you sell, or an “easier,” “stronger” or “sexier” idea than someone else’s.

2. Work your way though unreasonable demands.

Sometimes (although, thankfully, not as often as most salespeople fear), buyers’ positions will become intractable: “If you don’t give me a 50 percent price reduction, I’m going to your competitor!” One of my favorite phrases to use in these situations is “unreasonable demands” – as in, “I’m sorry, but you are really making unreasonable demands.” Most people don’t want to have their motives or actions characterized in that manner, so when you have to, do so.

3. Ask for help.

When you’re looking for clarification, don’t be afraid to ask. For example, when you’re trying to isolate an objection, say something like, “Help me understand why you feel that way.” It’s a great step toward easily transitioning to the next part of the persuasion process.

4. Be careful about how you acknowledge the point.

I chuckle when a salesperson responds to an objection with an honest “Actually, you make a good point” – as if the customer was able to somehow come up with something smart and relevant to say. Avoid it, and acknowledge the point without faux flattery.

5. Don’t settle for little solutions.

No one wants a “little” solution. They want a powerful solution, a unique solution, a significant solution. Don’t belittle your own contribution.

6. Don’t accept “no” for an answer.

When someone delivers a flat-out “no,” ask very politely if, were you to tell him something he has yet to consider, he would be willing to change his mind. If the answer is “yes,” that “no” just got upgraded to a “maybe.” And then …

How Savvy Words Can Increase Your Persuasion Success

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating — especially in discussions about persuasion: Logic makes you think, emotion makes you act.

Some words are more compelling than others because of their emotional heft. They create powerful mental images to which listeners can readily relate.

That’s why some of the best word choices are aspirational (terms that compliment and inspire), emotional (ones that prompt an immediate response) and involve loss language (which spells out the potential consequences or risks):

  • Our savviest customers; the company’s diverse suite of products; your compelling presentation
  • A sensitive situation; an urgent response; a feel-good solution
  • If we don’t act now, we might have to forfeit this opportunity; are you really willing to surrender to the competition?

    Unpack your trunk of adjectives and punch up the power quotient.

    Instead of just saying the team has to make a decision, try describing it as a crucial decision, or perhaps a far-reaching decision or a key decision.

    Be descriptive of your perception of another person’s perspective as enlightened, critical or well- informed.

    You’ll often see these words repeatedly used in advertising copy, because they repeatedly work: fast, easy, guaranteed, powerful, quick, inexpensive.

    Remember that a strength overdone is a weakness. Judiciously used, well-chosen adjectives can work tremendously; overuse, on the other hand, leads to hyperbole.

    Choose your words wisely.

  • Use These 6 Words to Hear ‘Yes’ More Often

    When you are in the process of persuading, remember six powerful words that will force you to link a meaningful target benefit to your request: What this means to you is … 

    You can’t say it without saying something after it.

    When you start to focus on your justification points for why someone should take you up on your offer, liberally use this phrase as part of your rhetoric.

    Say, for example, you sell Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and are trying to explain to customers why the new Dark Custom™ series rivals the brand’s traditional bikes. Here’s a good line: “The Iron 883™ positions the Evolution engine in the nimble Sportster frame. What this means to you is you’ll be riding an iconic bike that’s dripping with power and character.”

    And what this means to you is … you’ll hear “yes” more often.

    If you don’t include these six words in your pitch, here’s another six words you might want to get accustomed to saying: Would you like fries with that? 

    Storytelling 101: Five Ways to Persuade (Part I)

    Storytelling is one of the oldest, most effective forms of human communication. Long before Twitter, Facebook and even the printing press, humans informed and instructed others via stories for thousands of years.

    Why has storytelling as a communication art form stood the test of time? Because it’s compelling. Just try listening to only half of Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” or Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s almost impossible. Even if you’ve heard those songs before, you still want to know how the story ends.

    Stories also can be instrumental in helping you convince others — a colleague, a potential customer, maybe even a complete stranger in an elevator. I call them “situational persuasion success stories.” These are pre-created retellings of how you previously helped improve someone’s condition in given situations. This elevated skill-set can yield tremendous results in your persuasion efforts and will accomplish five things. You will:

    1. Create a nonthreatening way to share information.

    In many persuasion situations, your target can be on hyper-alert, wanting to avoid feeling uninformed or ambushed. And if the conversation is focused on him or her, personal defenses are often heightened. But if you attempt to make your point with a story that does not involve the individual to whom you are speaking, it’s much easier for that person to relax and focus on the discussion.

    2. Allow your targets to insert themselves into the role of your situational success story’s main character.

    The best situational persuasion success stories are ones in which the main character is someone other than you or the other person. Inserting yourself into the lead role could send the wrong message — suggesting that you are self-centered and your story is contrived. So don’t be the hero in every story; make the main character someone else, such as a friend or colleague.

    3. Make the discussion an effective one.

    Everyone enjoys a good story now and then, and situational persuasion success stories contain three subtle yet distinct objectives: to inform, to educate and to persuade. When you inform someone, you make that person aware; when you educate, you bring about understanding; and when you persuade, you enable the other person to embrace a particular point of view. Yours.

    4. Provide a “social proof” component.

    As one of my professional heroes, Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, claims, “We follow the lead of similar others.” When we hear that “all the kids are doing it,” that has a profound impact on us. Using situational persuasion success stories leverages this idea of social proof, or informational social influence, and makes what you’re talking about even more convincing.

    5. Break through the surrounding informational noise.

    In his book, Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut, author David Shenk states that the average American in 1971 encountered 560 daily advertising messages. By 1997 (the year Data Smog was published), that number had swelled to more than 3,000 per day. And the Newspaper Association of America proclaims that now the average American is exposed to more than 3,000 advertising messages before breakfast. There’s a lot of noise out there; to cut through it and convince someone to listen to you, you must have a compelling story to tell.

    Sharing stories is a critical component of the Persuasion Equation, which is why next time, I’ll share elements and examples of compelling situational persuasion success stories.

    Bad Language: How to Diminish Your Persuasive Powers

    Some language and phrases used in today’s persuasion conversations should be abolished, no matter what.

    Here are three examples:

    1. “At the end of the day … ”

      At the end of the day … what? You come home from work, you do stuff and you eventually go to bed. This phrase makes no sense and serves no purpose in your persuasion arsenal. Avoid. Always.

    2. “I’m just sayin’… ”

      I’m unclear as to when or where this phrase came into vogue, but its usage seems to have increased in recent years — usually as the universal get-out-of-bad-behavior line. People think they can make rude or inappropriate comments as long as they preface or conclude them with, “I’m just sayin’… .” Here’s what not to say in persuasion situations: “I’m just sayin’ that your idea doesn’t exactly solve the problem.” Or this: “Your team is incompetent and plain wrong; I’m just sayin’.”

    3. “LOL,” “JK,” “IMHO,” “LMAO,” “TTFN” and “TTYS”

      Others might not appreciate or even understand such abbreviated phrases. (I had to Google “TTYS,” which means “talk to you soon”). Text-speak is unprofessional and should not be used in written business correspondence, let alone in face-to-face interactions. I read about a mother who was texting her teenage daughter’s friend, whose own mother had recently passed away. In an attempt to comfort her, she signed off on one message with “LOL,” thinking it meant “lots of love.” She was horrified when she found out it actually means “laughing out loud”! Along similar lines, I once found myself explaining “LMAO” to my mother.

    If you find yourself employing any of the above, make a mental note and find different ways to express yourself.

    Language is like anything else: It requires practice. I try to verbally convey my point on three different levels. One uses simple language (“happy”), another involves slightly more elaborate language (“elated”), and the third encourages the use of multiple syllables and/or the creative side of my brain (“exuberant”). Or how about “help,” “comfort,” and “assuage.”

    Work on establishing these three levels of language based on what is appropriate for a particular target. It’s fun, isn’t it? Or amusing. Or even enthralling.