Exactly What to Say: The Magic Words for Influence and Impact by Phil M Jones is a very quick read. As in, you can probably finish it in under 1 hour if not less than 40 minutes. But its value was in making me think about the words I use in my day-to-day conversations and what kinds of adjustments I can make to shape conversations in favorable ways.
I’m not going to give a detailed summary of the book, but I’ll quote a few things and mostly dive into the actual “Magic Words” that Jones presents and how I find some of them useful in my daily conversations.
Magic Words are sets of words that talk straight to the subconscious brain. The subconscious brain is a powerful tool in decision-making because it is preprogrammed through our conditioning to make decisions without overanalyzing them. It works a little like a computer—it has only “yes” and “no” outputs and can never land on a “maybe.” It is strong and decisive and moves quickly. Using words that talk straight to the part of the brain that is free from maybes and responds on reflex gives you a fair advantage in conversation and can result in you getting your own way more often.
Jones begins the book by sharing his observation that successful people have one thing in common: “they know exactly what to say, how to say it, and how to make it count.” Magic Words are his cataloged collection of the words and phrases that successful people use to influence others in conversations.
Here’s the list of the Magic Words. I recommend picking up the book to get more context and more examples (it’s so short that pasting any more would essentially be copying over the whole book):
- I’m not sure if it’s for you but…
- Open-minded (e.g. “Would you be open-minded about giving this a chance?”)
- What do you know?
- How would you feel if…
- Just imagine…
- When would be a good time?
- I’m guessing you haven’t got around to…
- Simple swaps (e.g. turning “Do you have any questions?” into “What questions do you have for me?”)
- You have three options…
- There are two types of people in this world…
- I bet you’re a bit like me…
- If you… then… (e.g. “If you decide to give this a try, then I promise you won’t be disappointed.”)
- Don’t worry…
- Most people… (e.g. “Most people in your situation would probably select the middle option.”)
- The good news… (e.g. “The good news is that we’ve got a robust training program and 24/7 customer support, so we’ll make sure you’re getting the most out of your product from day 1.”)
- What happens next…
- What makes you say that?
- Before you make up your mind…
- If I can… will you? (e.g. “If I can come down 10% on the price, can you complete the purchase today?”)
- Enough (e.g. turning “Would you like 1 or 3 bottles?” into “Would 3 bottles be enough for you?”)
- Just one more thing…
- Could you do me a small favor?
- Just out of curiosity…
My Most Frequently Used Magic Words
I’ll typically use this with clients when guiding them through a decision, whether it’s picking the right content management system platform or the right email marketing software or the amount to spend on a certain paid media campaign. I might say something like “In this type of situation, our other clients do this and that…” or “Our other clients do this…”. If I don’t have specific client examples but can pull from my knowledge of the market, I might say “Most businesses…” or “Other businesses in your space…” and that tends to have the same impact.
“Just out of curiosity…”
Whenever there’s a rejection or some kind of deferred decision from a prospect or a client, I try to ask for the reason. “Just out of curiosity, what made you go with the other firm?” Most of the time, the client will offer useful feedback that I learn from.
I probably overuse this sometimes, especially when I’m too confident about an outcome. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure a way to get it done even though our team is pretty booked up for the next 2 weeks.” I don’t find these words to be too magical, but rather something to be cautious of, especially when I’m using it myself.
“What happens next…”
I use a variation of this when talking to prospective clients or at the end of a client meeting. It’s something along the lines of “So for next steps…” or “For our next steps…” and then I’ll proceed to paint the picture of what will follow from our end and what we need from our clients to get things moving.
Magic Word I Want to Use More
Could you do me a small favor?
I’ve found that people who know how to ask of others usually end up getting more. And it doesn’t have to be in a slimy and inconsiderate way, but just having the courage to ask for help can be beneficial in many ways. I’ve seen this work out nicely for me in the few instances I’ve used it. I hope it’s something I can use strategically more often.
Just one more thing…
The author talks about how TV detective Columbo would be so good at using this to quiz his suspects at the very last moment. I think it’s a powerful way to save a conversation that may be sputtering or to make a lasting impression. I’ll have to think a bit more on specific use cases, but I’d like to experiment with this one.
I like this one because it requires a degree of confidence and of knowing what’s right for my clients. Rather than giving my clients too many options, I think framing it as “X hours should be enough” or “4 weeks of development should be enough” would make the decision-making process easier for them. There are so many applications of this, so I’m interested to see how I can use it in different situations.