As we traverse the landscape of leadership and transformation, we often overlook the profound impact of the words we choose. Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a manager at a smaller firm, the language you employ can be the linchpin for catalyzing change. And even the most influential minds often use words that undermine the clarity and action they would like to take.

In our most recent Conversations with the Masters, I had the opportunity to dive deep into the world of language, how it can be wielded to drive change, and how it can increase efficiency of the decision-making process with the master of influence and persuasion himself — Phil Jones.

Phil Jones is a world-renowned keynote speaker on the power of words, sharing his insights in over 56 countries to leaders in businesses both large and small. He has authored seven bestselling books, including his latest, Exactly What to Say: The Magic Words for Influence and Impact — the subject of today’s blog.

The greatest cost in decision making is indecision, procrastinating the choice for fear you either do not have enough information or you will make the wrong decision. In the moments that matter, finding the right words at the right time means the difference between achieving the desired outcome or being left in a standstill as disruption overtakes you.

Finding the Magic Words

How do you guide someone toward a decision — moreover, the right decision? How do you shift someone’s response from a “no” to a “yes”? Essentially, how do you get someone to change their mind?

The words we choose can have a powerful impact on what we are trying to accomplish, but contrary to the book’s title, there are no magic words that can persuade someone to move to your side of thinking. As Phil explained, the principles behind the words we choose are the magic wand, language that speaks to the subconscious brain of others to create better efficiency within decision making.

In my Anticipatory Organization® Model, I teach C-suite executives and managers alike the advantage of looking to the future to see disruption before it disrupts you, finding the opportunity that no one else is looking for within the disruption. Our conversations with others work in the same way.

Navigating the terrain of persuasion and transforming mindsets requires finesse only achieved with an Anticipatory Mindset. We often find ourselves in critical conversations where we lose control, but that is because we gave the control away. Instead of allowing yourself to be disrupted and trying to recover, the key is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Anticipate the conversation, be prepared for objections and other viewpoints, and steer it in the direction of your choosing.

Overcome Friction in Conversation

When we are speaking with others in our organization, giving a sales presentation to clients, or even talking with our loved ones, we often inadvertently create moments of friction. This hinders the conversation or introduces doubt where others then hesitate in making a choice about something.

For example, say you finish a sales presentation and you end with, “Do you have any questions?” There are no questions, so you must have aced the proposal, answered all concerns, and left no doubt, right?

Then you hear the dreaded, “I’ll get back to you.” No decision has been made and the project is at a standstill.

What went wrong?

By ending the meeting with, “Do you have any questions?” you have created a puzzle for the other individual. You created confusion where they believe there must be more questions to ask. There must be missing data or information that is crucial to making the decision. Thus, they have to take it back to their desk and mull it over.

One of Phil’s concepts in his book Exactly What to Say: The Magic Words for Influence and Impact is to swap what you say. Instead of, “Do you have any questions?” ask, “What questions do you have for me?” This puts the power back in your hands, establishing you as the leading authority on the subject.

If the individual states positively that they have no questions and have all the information necessary to make the decision, your response should then be, “The next step is . . .” The key is to not leave them wondering where to go from there — it is you who leads them in the direction of the decision you want them to make. 

The art of influence and persuasion revolves around diffusing tension, putting your conversationalist at ease, and guiding them with your word choice.

Promote a Conversational Gray Space

Many organizational leaders enter a room with command, attempting to use their confidence to shift others’ mindsets. But the reality is this rarely works. When you are unequivocally sure of yourself, others perceive the display as aggressive. Defenses go up and they enter a fight-or-flight mentality where they feel the need to guard information. This too creates inefficient communication where neither party reaches a decision.

Shouldn’t you be confident in the idea you are selling? Absolutely! But you also need to be open and curious as well. The second cornerstone to conversational excellence is curiosity — an insertion of a safe space for swapping ideas, concepts, and truth. When you insert curiosity with your word choices and tone, you create a gray space that the other person can play into. 

If someone is still hesitating on taking the leap with a decision, stalling, or giving you a polite brush-off, what you need is more information to help them to make the decision. Do not say, “Tell me what is halting this decision” or “Tell me what more information you need,” as this phrasing again introduces friction. “Tell me” is a command — it is aggressive and promotes resistance.

An easy swap would be to instead use the phrase “help me.” “Help me to understand the decision-making process.” “Help me understand what it would take to get a ‘yes.’” This phrase allows the other person to feel safe and share some truth.

Turning Decisions into Action

Words can be a powerful tool in your strategic arsenal, but much like using Hard Trends to find the opportunities the future presents, choosing the right words at that critical moment is something that requires anticipation and constant refinement.

Always be sure to use language strategically to create greater conversational efficiency. As a result, you increase the rate of decision making and increase the rate of action.